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Aronsons’ upkeep of Boundary Road Trails a ‘labor of love’

Aidan Reilly/DMG Above, the Ryan and Sarah Williams, Arlyn Aronson and Mary Williams lead the way along the trails

The Copper Country is teeming with trail systems and access points to explore our natural surroundings. Between state natural areas, parks and national forests, there is a long list of trail systems, many maintained by nonprofit organizations or dedicated volunteers.

The Boundary Road Trails in Portage Township is one such system kept up by the passionate efforts of Arlyn and Sandy Aronson. Over the past eight years, they’ve maintained over 3 miles of trails and brought a once neglected system into a vibrant, year- round destination for dog owners, bikers and skiers.

To reach the trailhead, head south on Superior Road in Houghton past Dodgeville and turn left on Boundary Road. Go about a half mile until you reach the parking area and trailhead on the left.

A logging road leads the way to the primary trail which offers scenic views of the Pilgrim River. A more rigorous single-track trail, perfect for mountain bikers or trail runners winds along the river and back above the ridge line.

Small bridges and boardwalks help visitors cross through ravines and over small streams, while painted trees, marked diligently by Arlyn and his neighbors indicate the path of the trail.

Originally the preservation of the area along the Pilgrim River was led by the Copper Country Trout Unlimited chapter in the early 2000s, who sought to conserve the Pilgrim River headwaters for its exceptional fish habitat.

The project grew to include Keweenaw Land Trust and the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District who helped to develop the Pilgrim River Watershed Project.

The collaborations included scientific studies and input from area stakeholders committed to maintaining the Pilgrim River’s public access.

The Wisconsin based Hovel family who has spearheaded many conservation projects in Northeastern Wisconsin, purchased large tracts of the area identified by the Copper Country stakeholders for conservation easements. John Ollila, a Copper Country resident, also donated land in memory of his mother that now makes up the Sally M. Olilla Memorial Woodland on South Superior Road.

Designations were finalized under the United States Forest Service Community Forest and Legacy Forest Programs in December 2017 ensuring protection of 1,600 acres (about twice the area of Central Park in New York City) and 3.5 miles of the Pilgrim River channel.

After the designation of the area and the development of the Boundary Road Trails, there was a lapse in use and maintenance at the access point, and the trails fell into neglect.

On moving to the Copper Country, the Aronsons sought a recreation area close to home where they could run their dogs off leash.

Arlyn and Sandy are avid adventurers and have over 30 years of trail maintenance experience after maintaining a section of the North Country Trail, Arlyn also headed trail maintenance in Hancock for 15 years.

During their first visit to the Boundary Road Trails the Aronsons found themselves wading through grasses waist high.

Disappointed, but not defeated, they took on the upkeep of the trails as a special interest. Their efforts have been a labor of love ever since.

“Trails need love, if you don’t keep them up then no one will be able to use them,” Arlyn said.

Using their experience, tools, savings and over 200 hours of their own time, the Aronsons were able to clear the trail to a usable path.

Since, they have continued to keep the trails in remarkable condition relying solely on in-kind donations and their own investment. An annual expense of $5,000.

In spring and fall, trails are cleared of growth or leaf litter and in the winter groomed for cross-country skiers.

As the Aronsons’ investment has increased and drawn on their singular effort significantly, so has the use of the trails and the investment by others.

Sarah and Ryan Williams of Houghton, with their four kids and 2-year-old dog have found their involvement in the Boundary Road Trails to be an enriching experience.

Ryan, the Assistant Director of the Geospatial Research Facility at Michigan Tech, designed maps of the trail system. He also set up a trail camera to determine average visitors to the trails. Over nine months, the Boundary Road Trails received over 700 visitors, many dog owners, but also bikers, hikers and skiers.

Sarah notes that the family will get out to the trails up to 5 times a week to take walks or ride bikes and let their young dog get her energy out.

Their involvement in the trails has also been of benefit to their son.

Andrew not only likes to ride his fat tire bike around the single-track section, but also helped Arlyn to groom the ski trails over the last winter, giving him valuable experience at a young age.

Ryan and Andrew joined Arlyn this past Saturday to trailblaze along the section of single track that snakes down to the banks of the Pilgrim River.

Together the Aronsons, Williams and other regular trail users have fromed a board to set an plan for the Boundary Road Trails and spearhead the development of a 501c3 that would make the group eligible for grants and other funding opportunities.

To find out more about the Boundary Road Trails, visit them on their Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/Boundary.Road.Trails/ where you can find opportunities to help volunteer during maintenance days, donate to the upkeep of the trails, or get information regarding the next board meeting.

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