The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Third phase of Iron Belle Trail receives $200,000 local match


November 22, 2017

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

PAUL ANDERSON, of Ironwood, addresses the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, seeking support for the Bessemer to Ramsay phase 3 of the Gogebic County Iron Belle Trail project. About 30 people attended the meeting, with many addressing the trail funding issue.


Bessemer - The third phase of the Iron Belle Trail development in Gogebic County is shaping up as a $1.6 million project.

The Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to again be a sponsor to seek funding for the project, this time from Bessemer to Ramsay. The board agreed on a 5-0 vote to back the project, provided around $27,000 that is owed to the county from phase 2 is paid back by the end of the year. That money is being held up in a dispute with the project contractor that has required the second project phase to be extended.

With a $200,000 contribution for the local match to be provided by the Gogebic Range Health Foundation for phase 3, the county will seek $292,129 in a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant and $1,129,000 from the Michigan Department of Transportation in what is called TAP funding.

"The community loves this trail and is beyond excited for more trail to be developed east of Bessemer," Scott Erickson, chair of the Western Gateway Trail Authority, wrote to the board.

Several people spoke during the meeting about the success of the 6.5-mile Ironwood to Bessemer non-motorized trail and county board members agreed it has been a boon to the area, but they want that $27,000 to be paid off.

Through the action of the county board, the first two phases of the hiking-biking trail project were sponsored by the county, which acted as a sort of treasurer for the financing, with the county road commission also involved.

Erickson said the Iron Belle phase 3 construction is anticipated for 2020 and the deadline for applying for the MDNR's trust fund grant is April 1.

The MWGTA would enter into a similar agreement with the county as was used for phase 2, with minor language changes.

The GRHF has been funding trail projects in an effort to create a healthier Gogebic Range. John Garske, of Ironwood, retired from Coleman Engineering, spearheaded the initial effort to acquire land for the trail. He said Tuesday the health foundation contributed the $200,000 "to fight obesity and other health-related issues."

Anderson said around $30,000 is left from the second phase of the project. That would apparently mean the WGTA has the funds to pay back the county before the dispute with the contractor for the $27,000 is settled.

Anderson, who works for Coleman Engineering, said engineering for the third project phase would be done in 2019.

Erickson pointed out the economic advantages of having both motorized and non-motorized trails in the county. Motels, stores and other downtown businesses all benefit, he said.

"Businesses looking to locate in the area are looking for these types of amenities," Erickson said.

Will Andresen, of Ironwood, said a key reason his son moved back to the area is the trail. "It's pulling the community together," he said.

Bessemer Township Board member Beverly Ikola told the county board about her town's plans to renovate the Ramsay Park with the assistance of a grant.

Erickson told the county board additional businesses are likely to spring up along the trail.

County board member Jeff Wasley, of Ironwood, said he "has heard nothing but good about the trail," but asked Anderson if project extensions could be avoided in the future.

Anderson said the extensions "aren't uncommon."

After county board member Jim Oliver, of Ironwood, said, "We still haven't got our portion of the money back," Erickson said, "You will be made whole financially."

County board member Bob Orlich, of Wakefield, said the promoters of Copper Peak might next appear before the board to request a grant sponsorship. "All of a sudden, we're in the finance business," he said.

Ironwood City Commissioner Jim Mildren then cautioned the county board that the governor, MDOT and the DNR are all behind the project and that might not always be the case. "The opportunity is now," Mildren said.

Commissioner Joe Bonovetz, of Bessemer, made the motion to sponsor the project if the $27,000 is paid back by Jan. 1.

Oliver seconded the motion. Orlich, Wasley and board chair George Peterson, of Watersmeet, also supported the motion.

Commissioners Tom Laabs and Dan Siirila, of Ironwood, were absent.

The Iron Belle Trail, when complete, will extend from Ironwood to Detroit.

The fourth phase of the local project will extend from Ramsay to Wakefield.


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