Column: Severe storms impact summer ATV/ORV trails

ESCANABA — As we officially head into summer, the peak season for motorized recreational riding is upon us and there are some area issues and projects that should checked out prior to your departure.

Recent storms in the western Upper Peninsula have caused some washout conditions on the trails managed by MI-TRALE and the Keweenaw ATV-ORV Clubs, causing them to be shut down until a full assessment and repairs assure they are save to travel.

According to Ron Yesney, Michigan Department of Natural Resources U.P. trails coordinator, “We have at least 50, probably more, washouts on our trails systems, most between Dollar Bay and Calumet on Lake Linden Grade. There are other washouts on the Freda Grade, Bill Nichols Grade, and right in Hancock, as well.”

With all the elements exposed to damage from the heavy rains, the trails have been hit the worst and crews are out in force trying to make repairs.

Jeff Kakuk, MDNR western U.P. trails specialist, reports that around 70-80 miles of state-managed rail grade are affected in these counties and thus has requested full off-road vehicle trail closures in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties.

There are also minor washouts on the Sidnaw to Bergland and Iron River to Marinesco trails where local trail sponsors have been working on repairs.

“Riders should use caution when on the system as trail conditions may change rapidly, and trail repairs may still be in progress,” Kakuk said.

The Keweenaw Club issued a report indicating that Trails number 3 from Hancock to Lake Linden to Calumet is closed. Trail 17 from Hancock to Calumet is also temporarily closed. The trail north of Calumet remains open.

The MI-TRALE Club reports that theBill Nichols Route/Trail is closed from Toivola north and could be for awhile. It was inspected by the MDNR Tuesday, June 19, and report that the trail by the mine shaft in Painsdale has total culvert failure with deep sinkhole making it impassable, the trail crossing on the road immediately after that is washed out. The culvert on the other side of that trail crossing is mostly bare with a washout across the trail. It’s passable but shouldn’t be driven over. A little bit further down is another culvert failure with a deep sinkhole taking up about æ of the trail and is impassable. They are asking ATV/ORV riders to stay out of this area for now.

On a more local level, the Escanaba-Hermansville ATV/ORV Route has received an MDNR order to regulate specific vehicle types and recreational use. A Land Use Order of the Director (LUOD) (Amendment Number 3 for 2018) clarifies the intended “limited access” that was requested by adjacent private property owners when construction of the route was approved.

The order now “legally” prohibits anyone to operate a wheeled motorized vehicle which is 65 inches or more in width. It also prohibits hunting or the discharge of a firearm (on the trail). Access by the American Transmission Company (who sponsored construction), MDNR employees and their designees using a motorized vehicle to perform official duties, or to fire emergency, or law enforcement personnel to perform official duties will be permitted. Restrictor gates with 65 inch openings are being installed along the route and will continue as needs arise. Points of intersection to other connecting trail/route systems are not affected by this order.

The Forest Island Trail system that runs from south Bark River on into Cedar River is scheduled for some major repair work. A pre-bid meeting was held last week where contractors were invited to examine the project and ask questions prior to submitting bids for the job.

Planning for the Forest Island Trail has been in the works for several years and includes replacement of a significant section of boardwalks that span approximately five miles. While some will be repaired, other areas will be removed and re-routed with elevated bases and/or new segments of fresh trail being built to compensate for lowland sections that have been impossible to maintain.

The total Forest Island Trail is made up of loops that feature a challenging section of two sectons with half being a route type and occupying connecting road segments to the original trails, designed for ATVs and ORVs that did not exceed fifty inches in width. Unfortunately, the uses by ORVs (side-by-sides) greater than fifty inches have challenged the trail side and as a result have caused irreparable damage. The influx of use will now see and average width set to 65 inches with 72 inch reduced angle corners for better line-of-sight travel.

The changes are a disappointment for ATV riders but restoration to the original design is not feasible, given the use experience. Execution of bid awarding is set for August with work to take place shortly thereafter. The trail will remain open with certain areas closed that will be marked warning riders that construction work is under way. Completion is expected no later than November 15th. Once completed, it will still be a great ride.

Lastly, the work done in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service regarding the consideration of Level II Roads and trail establishment within the western complex of the Hiawatha National Forest is still in the works. Extension of the Nahma Grade Trail has been approved by the MDNR, however an additional loop segment that will be added as part of the network is pending. A review of compatibility of the proposal to connect Alger, Delta, Marquette and Schoolcraft counties via the Level II road system is pending and on initial review, a very small amount of conflict exists between the proposed network to remain open and the Camp Cooks Forest Management Plan now in place. Adjustments have already been made and actually opened a new connection in the northeast area.

Be safe out there and know before you go!


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.