ESCANABA - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducted a public hearing Wednesday evening at Bay de Noc Community College for the purpose of gaining input about a proposed sanctioned trail system from Escanaba to Hermansville.
The land proposed for use is a railroad grade that was acquired by the Michigan Department of Transportation a couple years ago. The DOT can and did turn over use and authority to the DNR.
Keith Lynch, the president of Delta County SORVA (Sportsmen's Off-Road Vehicle Association), toured the span and thought it ideal to put into the current state trail system. Each of the eight SORVA chapters in the U.P. has enrolled in a trail program, adopting them in their respective areas to maintain and repair seasonally.
The Hermanaba proposal will extend from the City of Escanaba to the Village of Hermansville, thus the name. The trail head is tentatively planned for the U.P. State Fairgrounds. Where it will be in Hermansville is yet to be determined.
The development of the idea has evolved and is now at the public input stage. The timing could not have been better.
If adopted, the system proposed would be part of the DNR's "Rail to Trail" program, including multi-use or specific use in the western U.P. The Hermanaba is one of 12 systems under consideration. The objective is to eventually tie the trails together, advancing recreational opportunity and tourism. The DNR is favoring multi-use trails throughout the U.P. If approved, the Hermanaba will also connect riders to the Felch Grade, another established trail that starts in Delta County and finishes in Dickinson County.
A simple way to understand the concept is to compare it to the snowmobile trails system now in place throughout the state. They have the capability to travel point-to-point, often referred to as "saddle-bag" riding.
The ORV/ATV and snowmobile trails program in Michigan is mostly self-funded by user fees provided from the sale of licenses on the motorized machines. Other activities allowed under multi-use such as hiking, biking and equestrian riding do not currently pay for licensure or use. The equestrian riders do have a strong history of contributing both physically and financially toward the establishment and maintenance through their club memberships, however.
An inventory of the Hermanaba grade has taken place, identifying obstructions that include 12 gates put up by certain landowners (originally) with the permission of the railroad and 12 deer blinds left illegally on the public land.
There are four bridges within the Hermanaba corridor that will need new decking and safety rails. The bridges also provide scenic overlooks.
There was discussion at Wednesday's meeting regarding hunting on or along the grade. Private landowners that hold deed to the adjacent land on either side wanted to know if they could hunt along or on the system? There were varying opinions and a more defined answer is forthcoming.
Another question was whether the DNR will implement restricted hours of use. There are not presently any time-use restrictions on the Michigan trail system but public comment could influence consideration. There are restrictions for the use of ATVs on public land during the Michigan firearm deer hunting season from 7-11 a.m. and noon-5 p.m. Emergency situations allow for exceptions to the rule.
Some wanted to know if camping would be permitted along the trail system. There are no regulations on this except that a personal permit to camp on state land is required.
Concern over garbage currently found along the grade was expressed. Dumping along these areas is already illegal and it is doubtful that this is being done by recreational users anyway. However, the snowmobile and ORV clubs, along with the DNR, have committed to clean up the problem.
One property owner along the proposed trail system expressed concern about pickup trucks and/or SUVs traveling the route. If designated as a trail, the Hermanaba would include restrictions already in place on all trails excluding the use of larger vehicles.
Another concern was expressed by those with agricultural businesses regarding damages to their land from trespassers. They also wanted assurances that farm equipment be allowed access across and on the grade for business operations. They were assured the practice could continue, especially for those who held a previously issued crossing easement from the former railroad.
There was extensive discussion between the motorized trail users and the non-motorized users. SORVA, the U.P. Snowfliers, and the U.P. Trail Riders all endorsed multi-use commitment for the trail, including the motorized and non-motorized options. Those endorsing non-motorized use essentially want exclusivity for the trail, but some within the group encouraged compromise.
The DNR was criticized by some for the conditions found on the Felch Grade Trail and wondered if a new system would be any better.
There was little discussion about safety and speed on the trail system. I would have thought this would be one of the primary topics.
The DNR will continue to accept written comments and is also considering an additional public hearing in the future. Then they will compile the data and issue a report.
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.