Taking their time: Trails Club is working toward insurance policy
EAGLE RIVER — The refusal of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to cooperate with a land purchase agreement between Keweenaw County and Keweenaw Resort, LLC (formerly the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge) has forced the county, the resort and the Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) back to the tables for more financial talks. The proposed purchase agreement was for several-hundred acres of county land to be purchased by the Keweenaw Resort containing several bike trails. Acquisition of the property by the LLC would relieve the county of any financial liability in the event of a catastrophic injury resulting in a lawsuit.
During the regular monthly board meeting earlier this month, liability and insurance were discussed at length, and Mark Hannula, municipal insurance agent for the county, as well as the townships within the county, told the CHTC to either increase their general liability insurance limit from $1million to $5 million or keep the high-risk trails sections they maintain closed. Discussion also included the topic of having the trails in Grant Township inspected, something Hannula said should be done, but admitted he did not know who conducts such inspections.
Hannula said it is the club he is trying to protect, because as a club, any or all of the CHTC members could be drawn into a lawsuit and held financially responsible, putting their personal assets at risk by not having adequate insurance. Hannula was blunt:
“The DNR has laws now on recreational properties and all that,” he said, “but that’s for normal stuff. Now, you gotta agree with me, that’s not — the normal people don’t go over those jumps and stuff. Do they?”
A member of the trails club asked Hannula if he had ever seen a family play at Haven Falls (near Lac La Belle).
“It’s a waterfall that people climb on constantly,” said the member. “It’s on county property. There are no railings, there is no nothing. I’ve watched people personally fall off of it. So, I mean, there’s risk involved in everything.”
The falls are man-made, said Nathan Miller, executive director of the Copper Harbor Trails Club, left over from “the mining days.”
Miller went on to inform Hannula, as well as the County Board, that the trails club is in the process of getting an insurance quote from another company, because their current provider says they cannot provide more than a $1 million policy.
“And hopefully, that will bring us to that $5 million limit,” Miller said. “We’ve shared with them all the requests from the county, and you (Hannula) and from our agent, whatever we can feed them to hopefully get us a quote.”
Miller said that one of the challenges to insurance is that mountain bike trails, like the type created by the CHTC, are a new sport, and finding insurance in itself is a challenge.
Miller said one disadvantage is that bike trails of the type constructed by the CHTC are a new thing that require insurance, and providers are difficult to locate.
“Our current agent has been able to find us policy and really make it work,” said Miller, “but there haven’t been a lot of others able to get an affordable policy, but we think that we have put a good lead on one, and so we’re working through that process.”
Miller also told Hannula that the CHTC currently has an agreement with the county that was drafted by County Attorney Chuck Miller earlier in the spring before the potential land purchase agreement with the Keweenaw Resort was to be finalized, so the trails could be opened earlier in the season. The purchase agreement was initially expected to require no more than a few weeks to finalize and process. That was before the DNR refused to cooperate in the negotiations.
“Until that policy, which has a $2 million limit, but it requires all those difficult and high-hazard trails to remain closed,” Miller said.
“So, if we do manage to get that $5 million policy, we would probably work with Chuck (Miller) to amend that policy (agreement) to require the higher limit, but then also relieve those trails to remain open, so that we can continue to have our entire trail system open to use.”