The Future of Trail 614 Forest Service Still Wants Snowmobilers off Forest Service Property and on Unplowed Roads

 

December 16

Trail 614 in the Irons area will be closed this snowmobile season, but the future and possible reroute of a portion of that trail is still up for review.

Again, trail 614 will be closed this season. It will not be groomed and signs have been taken down.

Trail 614 is located in Bear Swap of the Manistee National Forest. It is utilized by all snowmobilers from the southwest to access the Irons trail system and is a valuable connector to emergency medical services and fuel at Freesoil and Fountain.

It has been part of the trail system since the 1970s on a railroad spur that has been located in the Manistee National Forest since the 1920s.  It has also served as a way for all the local cabin owners to connect to the marked groomed trail system.

Last Winter!

Last winter it was agreed not to groom a portion of trail 614 in the Manistee National Forest because of five bridges that are in need of repair. That section was marked and a sign put in place alerting snowmobilers that the trail would remain open, but would not be groomed until a reroute was found.

Rangers with the Huron-Manistee National Forests have worked to find a long-term reroute for this trail. Forest Service officials told snowmobilers  that a portion of the trail is being decommissioned because of the bridges, that are considered unsafe. According to the forest’s Master Plan the trail is also located in a “Candidate Research Natural” area.

To date several reroutes have been discussed. All of which are unacceptable to the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA). We received notice on Nov. 15, of yet another possible reroute for that trail, while we continue to ask — why reroute the trail? Why not fix the bridges?  We can repaired bridges with pre-enginered bridges, which would be paid for through Snowmobile Trail Improvement Program funds — your money. This will keep snowmobilers safe, keep them on the railroad grade, and off roads.

What is — a Candidate Research Natural Areas

Before Thanksgiving, I joined American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA) Executive Director Christine Jourdain at a meeting with the U.S. Forest Service Region 9 Forest Supervisor Kathleen Adkinson.

We discussed snowmobile trails within our national forests, including the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

I brought up trail 614, and explained how long snowmobilers have been using that trail and how important it is to the safety of snowmobilers. Neither she or her assistant were aware of the closure and reroute alternatives. We told them that the area is a swamp and frozen when we use it in the winter. What possible “research” can be done there? We asked both of them just what is  a”Candidate Research Natural” area? We asked for a definition of this  boundary, and they couldn’t tell us what it was.

We had a good discussion with them. We explained our concerns with taking snowmobilers off forest property and putting us on a road. We stressed safety issues. We were told they would research the issue and get back to this as soon as possible.

Some Background on the Closure

On June 21, 2016, District Ranger, Jim Thompson, & Recreation Planner, Kathy Bieta, presented a plan to the Snowmobile Advisory Committee (SAW) to do the following:

Remove the western portion of snowmobile trail 614 from the system;

  • Decommission a segment of snowmobile trail 614 through Bear Swamp; and,
  • Develop new routing for winter snowmobile trail 614.

 

At that meeting they showed us a map of the proposed reroute. We pointed out that the section of trail along 8 Mile Road would be a dangerous section, and unsafe for snowmobilers. The Forest Service said they would look at a two-track to the south. Although not the best reroute, most of it is on unplowed roads, with some on the side of plowed roads. At that SAW meeting we all agreed that it wasn’t the best reroute, but could work as the connector.

And in October…

At the SAW meeting in October. The Forest Service representative announced that they were abandoning the reroute agreed upon in June. A few people on the proposed reroute didn’t want a snowmobile trail near their houses. We were told the route to get us off of the 8 Mile Road ditch would also need a  Environmental Assessment study.

At that time, the Forest Service announced that “Snowmobilers would just have to find their own way or use the trail to the east.”

This is about a 20-mile Detour! Your MSA found this  attitude and statement from the Forest Service unacceptable! That’s why we asked you, our members, to get involved and contact members of the Forest Service.

You did just that, and we were notified of yet another reroute alternative on Nov. 15. Further proof of the importance of unity and numbers in our sport.

This reroute again puts us riding on the roadway. The proposed alternative is to reroute trail 614 by building and designating a 20-foot wide segment of trail on the northeast side of 8 Mile Road from Elk Highway to Tyndeall Road. The western portion of the trail would be removed from the trail and decommissioned. This reroute is also unacceptable to MSA.

A Little More About the Condition of the Trail

A small portion of trail 614 is a raised trail bed located on an old railroad grade with flowing water and wetlands on both sides.  Over time and continued use, the trail and trail bridges on that section of trail have suffered.  Emergency repairs completed in the fall of 2015 were sufficient to allow limited use by snowmobiles during the season.

A certified bridge engineer completed several inspections of the bridges through Bear Swamp during 2016. The inspections showed significant structural problems, specifically to the bridge footings, particularly the southernmost bridge. The bridges are currently unsafe for grooming equipment or snowmobiles.

The trail surface has also developed numerous large, deep sinkholes that creates safety concerns for snowmobiles and grooming equipment.

That’s why the Forest Service notified us that  trail 614 would be closed to snowmobiling this season, while another possible reroute is being discussed. Again, we find this unacceptable and have asked that we do what we did last season — keep the trail open, but put signs up letting riders know that it will not be groomed.

The trail will be closed this season!

Comments on the Nov. 15 alternative are currently being sought by the Forest Service. Comments will be accepted through Dec. 20. Visit MSA’s web site at www.msasnow.org for specific details on how to comment. Voice your displeasure with the closure, and these alternative reroutes.