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Tech forests are places for fun, races, natural spaces

HOUGHTON – When the Forest Guild recognized about 3,600 acres of Michigan Technological University’s school forests as an official Model Forest, skis and snowmobiles may have played as big a role as chainsaws and scientific cutting.

Recreational opportunities were a big part of the guild’s criteria, said head forester and forestry instructor James Schmierer. In terms of usage, the big push there came from the 600-odd acres of forest right next to campus, he said, where students, staff and community members can ski, mountain bike, try Tech’s challenge course, play paintball and more.

There’s also plenty more to do, a bit more privately, at the larger forests surrounding the Ford Forestry Center in Alberta, about 50 minutes south of campus in Baraga County. There, a key regional snowmobile trail runs through the property, along with the Canyon Falls Trail for hikers, a connector to the national North Country Trail, which stretches across seven states from New York to North Dakota.

There are also opportunities for campers and sportsmen – Lake Alberta is regularly stocked with trout by the Department of Natural Resources, and it’s no secret it’s one of the best fishing spots around.

Jim Neese, trails manager for the Tech Trails, said during this time of year the Tech Trails and connecting Nara Nature Park trails – not officially part of the forest – also offer snowshoeing, snow biking and a place to walk the dog, with users that might harm each others’ experiences kept to separate trails.

In the summer, mountain bikers take over more of the trails. There’s also disc golf just across the street, the Outdoor Adventure ropes course and more.

“I don’t know of any other school with all this connected right to campus,” Neese said. “It’s so easy for students to go skiing or jump on their mountain bike.”

For Tech students and staff that want to spend a little longer in the great outdoors, Tech’s O’Connor House offers equipment rentals for all sorts of activities, as well as special events to get students started.

“We’re trying to get students out to see what’s close to campus,” said Tech Assistant Director of Student Activities Jared Johnson. “We have a Bigfoot snowshoe event up at the Tech Trails, a fun run and more.”

O’Connor House has bikes and snowshoes to use on the campus trials, and kayaks, tents, sleeping bags and more for those who want to get to know the Ford Center Forests better, he said.

The center will even help you get the gear where you’re going, with car racks and trailers. For larger groups, said Johnson, O’Connor employees will even haul boats and gear to trail heads and boat launch areas.