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Conservation clubs maintain the U.P.

February 4, 2011
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - Many people don't realize how much effort goes into not only the social side of the conservation clubs membership, but that which is done by the elected officials and other volunteers who head up these fine groups.

They give their recreational time to represent the memberships when it comes to seeking resolve on issues, attend countless meetings and in many cases, provide volunteer labor to see that important projects are completed.

In my nearly quarter century of hands-on experience, I've wrestled deer in the UP Whitetails "Trap-Tag-Release Deer Migration Study" that took place annually for over a decade. I learned about and did goose banding with Ducks Unlimited, helped the Northwoods Chapter of Safari Club International with their "Wish-A-Hunt Program" and worked their exclusive "Sensory Safari (rolling) Museum" at events that include the UP State Fair. My involvement with UP Whitetails and the Sportsmen's Off-Road Vehicle Association (SORVA) of Delta County has extended into becoming a volunteer hunter safety and ATV riding safety instructor.

Article Photos

Tim Kobasic photo
Snowmobile instructor and member of the Sno-phlyers snowmobile club, Keith Lynch — seen here in a 2010 Tucker Groomer — also volunteers his time to groom and repair trail systems.

SORVA doesn't have a fund raising banquet, yet they put together volunteers and sought donations to develop the first ever ATV practical skills safety track in Michigan. The membership of the club also participates, as do many other similar clubs throughout the UP, in adopting designated trails and routes for the public who enjoy riding. They help plan, build and then maintain the system within their jurisdiction and without compensation. The money generated by license fees paid by riders pays for materials and out-of-pocket costs included in trail maintenance.

Keith Lynch is the president of the Delta County SORVA. He and his colleagues do an excellent job representing all ATV users and are out on the trails every chance they get. Lynch has recently certified as an ATV safety instructor and has taught snowmobile safety for years. He is also a member of the UP Snow Phlyers snowmobile club and, just as he does in the summer, spends much of his recreational time in the winter as a volunteer running one of the trail groomers used on the local systems to level and compact snow on the course for safe comfortable riding.

In his dual role, Lynch has been able to map problem areas and has also been asked to consult with local municipalities to correct abuse problems, especially where it involves private property.

Fact Box

Tim Kobasic is 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 Saturday mornings.

I recently had the opportunity to go out with him as he, again, took some of his "free" time away from his family and businesses to groom a trail.

The snowmobile clubs that participate in the program actually specify what type of groomer will work best in their region. The unit we were to ride in was purchased last year to replace an antiquated model. The 2010 "Tucker" is a state of the art groomer that utilizes rubber tracks versus the steel type used previously and are more pliable in the rough terrain. The diesel powered machine pulls a hydraulically controlled sled with spring loaded plow blades and wheels that raise and lower by the push of a button as conditions require. It also sports a series of warning lights for riders to see from a distance, and a serrated plow on the front that can sculpture some areas and push debris or hazards off the main trail. While it felt top-heavy, it truly moves about in the woods with great comfort and stability.

My purpose on going on the ride was not just to have a unique opportunity but to see some of the problems Lynch and those like him experience along the way. The problems we experienced were not from natural occurrences but more from users, or should I say abusers of the trails.

Recreational riding on many of the State of Michigan public land designated trails is dual purpose, allowing ATV riding in the summer and exclusive snowmobile riding in the winter. Unfortunately, the state has had to put steel gates across some trails, those that traverse through lowlands and/or over creeks, or as they open onto private land where required.

The gates are usually closed during ATV season, allowing a set-back just large enough for the 50" width machines. Otherwise, there has been a growing problem of operators of street legal four-wheel drive vehicles trying to ride cross country and on the trails, tearing up the terrain. Many of the bridges built along the trail are not designed for wider machines (although that is transitioning to more of a 60" specification for the new side-by-side machines). Moreover, some riders are trespassing onto private land designated for snowmobiles only, which has jeopardized the land owners participation in the program due to damages.

The regular trails open for multi-use have also experienced some problems for grooming as "apex berms" at corners are created by ATVs riding at higher speeds. The mounds of sand can be grated off but only if done before the ground freezes. This year, rain just before frigid temperatures arrived made reduction impossible. The sharp angle of the curve makes grooming far less effective as the sled tracks high and over the center of the trail. It is also risky for the groomer itself as trees sitting along the trail and the angle of the machine as it tips has caused some damage, not to mention more risk to snowmobile riders as well.

Keith will take the information he has obtained along the winter route to put into planning the summer work projects. He will also help advise the City of Gladstone with a few problematic spots along the number 2 trail, and join with fellow club members to do the maintenance work come spring, all without high public exposure.

This is but one example of the many things being done by the conservation organizations, the true stewards of the outdoors here in the Upper Peninsula.



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