State DNR citizens panel addresses trail damages

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette A section of washed-out trail is seen along the Department of Natural Resources’ Chassell to Houghton trail Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — The Bill Nicholls Trail should be reopened by fall, while other closed Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trails with more extensive damage could wait until next year, DNR staffers told residents Tuesday.

The regularly scheduled Western Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council meeting was reformatted to address public demand for trail information. The crowd split into two breakout sessions while the council conducted its regular meeting: one for trail questions and another for other topics related to the flood.

The largest was the trail group, led by DNR trails specialist Jeff Kakuk, which drew about 40 people. Kakuk also gave an update at the regular meeting.

About 59 miles of trail system were damaged in the June flood, including five railroad grades, Kakuk said.

The state activated the Emergency Operations Center on June 17 to act as a liaison between state, local and federal agencies. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has also been involved in rerouting channels and repairing grades to avoid damage to residential areas, said Steve Casey, DEQ district coordinator.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette DNR specialist Jeff Kakuk, Portage Health Foundation Executive Director Kevin Store and DNR Western U.P. Parks and Recreation Supervisor Doug Rich talk at a Western Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council meeting Tuesday.

The biggest success so far, he said, was pulling back the third railroad grade near the Quincy Mine area on Ripley Creek.

“The grade was made with watermelon-sized rocks, and it partially failed,” Casey said. “If we hadn’t gotten that out by 8 p.m. Wednesday night, that Thursday rain probably would’ve sent those rocks to Ripley.”

The DNR is prioritizing work on areas that could impact residents or communities, Kakuk said. The agency’s second priority is restoring trail connectivity.

While the flood’s damage was extensive, it did teach some lessons, Kakuk said.

“We definitely saw some things that worked and some things that didn’t work,” he said. “The water patterns changed with all this sediment, so we did have more damage we had to go back in and repair.”

Boating access sites suffered less damage, said Doug Rich of the DNR’s parks and recreation division. The Lily Pond, Boston Pond and Bootjack boating access sites remain closed.

As with all areas, the DNR is awaiting word on if President Trump will approve a federal disaster declaration. In the event it doesn’t, the Bill Nicholls Trail work will continue, as the money has already been earmarked, Kakuk said.

The Lake Linden Trail work will also need to be done.

“We’ll still have to get in, find the money somewhere. … We’re going to stabilize it and make things safe for the community,” he said. “I’ll be brutally honest: It’s going to mean a lot of projects don’t get done for quite a period.”

TOMORROW: The Western Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council listed specific major flood repair trail projects in the Copper Country region.