EAGLE RIVER - Off-road vehicle trails are a concern in the Keweenaw, and at a special meeting this month, more than 100 people came out to hear what representatives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had to say about creating a designated trail system.
Rob Katona, trail analyst with the DNR in Marquette, said the public meeting was held in Eagle River to bring up a variety of issues with the general public, including use of the trails by riders, funding and the history of the Keweenaw trail system.
The Keweenaw ATV Club has been spearheading an initiative over the last few years to get approval from local land owners to use the vast terrain in Keweenaw County for ATV trail use. The club, searching for support from the DNR to become a designated trail system, contacted several landowners and received permission to establish 54 miles of trails.
"They've been trying to develop and manage a trail corridor up there," Katona said.
About 100 people at the meeting voted in favor of the DNR's help to secure grant funding for designating trails.
"We have a process so the county will be eligible for grant funding," Katona said.
Many of the private landowners do not permit two-wheeled vehicles, such as dirt bikes, and a handful of attendees opposed that ban.
Ray Chase of the Keweenaw ATV Club said opposition comes from two-wheeled vehicle users, but in actuality, the users are prohibited by a landowner requirement not put forth by the DNR or the ATV Club.
"The landowners put restrictions on what the use of those trails will be," Chase said.
Many of the limitations and restrictions, which went into affect last fall, are due to insurance and liability reasons. In fact, it's the ATV club that went to each landowner and provided insurance for the club. Because the Keweenaw trails are the first public trails system on public land, it requires a director's order to enact rules and regulations, Chase said.
However, a majority of people are in support of the ORV trail system allowing ATVs, Katona said.
"The use is restricted," Katona said. "A lot of private land owners do not permit operation of motorcycles on their property."
Since the early 2000s, many hours and dedication from individuals has been put toward establishing ATV trails in the Keweenaw so locals and tourists have the opportunity to take advantage of the unique terrain.
"It takes a lot of dedication and time and effort for the club to move something like this through and get the support from landowners," Katona said.
The DNR's role is to administer the ORV and snowmobile programs in the state, while being more transparent by hosting meetings like the one held this month. If a local club or entity wants to have a designated trail eligible for funding, be it for restoration projects, maintenance or law enforcement, they turn to the DNR to administer the grants.
"We more or less manage that trail system when it gets to that point," he said. "The partnership is important if you want to be eligible for funding. It's important for having a sustainable trail system and a managed trail system where you can purchase signage and to help alleviate unwanted use. Otherwise, you're doing it all on your own."
Chase said he's been negotiating with the DNR for years for trail designation and DNR approval is important for what the club would like to accomplish.
"The majority of the public was in favor of a director's order to make this a full-fledged designated trail system," he said.
Chase said state designated trails could include the 54 miles of trail mostly on private land from Calumet to Copper Harbor. There are also trails sponsored by the club they would eventually like to see in the system that travel from Lac La Belle to Gay and Eagle Harbor and to Eagle River.
"This first step is the 54 miles from Calumet to Copper Harbor," he said.