The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Wakefield's Split Rock Trails offer something for everyone


August 25, 2018

Jean Nordine / Daily Globe

STANDING OVER a picturesque lookout from one of the Split Rock Trails on a recent sunny day in Wakefield are, from left, Rod Ritter, Jim Engel and Bill Quigley.


Wakefield - Stroll along one of Wakefield's Split Rock Trails, and you're bound to find flowers, birds, wild apples and sentries of surrounding trees, but be careful not to step on jay-walking toads.

In short, it's a Zen experience - unless what you're seeking is a mountain bike thrill, in which case you better keep your eyes open to hold your ground on curving trails that ascend and descend with the added challenge of bridges and bluffs.

It's your choice whether you want to hike, bike or run on paths mapped and color-coded for three levels of expertise.

Rod Ritter, who helped to create the system in the city's "section 10" area of Fink Location, said a trail map serves as a guide for users by designating "difficult" trails as blue and "expert" trails as black, with each of those sections running about one-third of a mile.

"The rest is easy trail," said Ritter, referring to a section called "Main Street," which is designated in green on the trail map. He said all trails combined total 2.8 miles.

Ritter took time out recently with fellow trail lovers Jim Engel and Bill Quigley, all of Wakefield, to explain the trails' history to the Globe.

Ritter said talk of creating the trails started in 2014 with former Wakefield planning commission members Loraine Mussatti and Bob Blaskowski.

"We finally got going in 2015," he said, claiming further progress was made possible when a 2016 storm blew down a grove of aspen on the designated property. He said city officials allowed them to harvest the wood and use related funds of about $5,000 to develop the trails on what remains as city property. A sub sandwich sale last spring took in another $1,400, and Ritter concluded, "We've had a few private donations."

The guys said Justin Lake, of Wakefield, was one of the first people to excavate initial trailing, while Quigley is one of the latest. Ritter and Engel credited him with taking charge this summer, while Quigley himself credited Hobby Wheel in Ironwood for donating the use of a 40-inch excavator, which he said made it possible for him to carve the latest trails.

Quigley said riding the trail system on his own bike is "a double-edged sword" because, as he put it, "You're excited to ride it, but you're always critiquing it and seeing what needs to be better."

Ritter said Neil Londo, of Wakefield, is the fourth member of the trail crew, and Engel also gave a thumbs up to Christopher Tweiten, who teaches social studies at the Wakefield-Marenisco K-12 School. "He's really been terrific," Engel said of Tweiten, who even brought some high school students to help on the trail.

According to the guys, the trails were named for the actual splitting of rock that occurred years ago in relation to the now defunct Sunday Lake Mine, which operated in the region from 1885 to 1961. While gazing down from one of the trail bridges, Quigley said of the unique feature, "When the sun is shining (just right), you can actually see the bottom of it. It's about 200 feet down."

Ritter said the mining history "is going to be an attraction," but Engel emphasized the sheer aesthetics of the trails, describing them as "just beautiful."

Engel is a runner, but said, "Before we started the trail, I had never been up here." Given he's now one of the system's most avid acolytes, he joked, "Rod calls me when he needs the heavy stuff lifted. No thinking required."

Engel said people using the dirt trails might see wild critters, but he said he's seen more "two-legged" than "four-legged" animals.

As for safety, he checked his cell phone reception while walking and declared it good to go, adding they currently are arranging for emergency crews to become familiar with the trails in the event anyone ever needs professional rescue.

Overall, Ritter called the trail system "a great thing for the community." Quigley, who said maintenance and expansion of the trail will continue, added, "We need people to come use it." Engel echoed to the public at large, "Come out and have some fun!"

The men said the trail has different views, depending on the season, and snowshoers can use the paths during winter.

Moreover, they said last year's work included creation of a gravel parking lot and installation of a trailhead message board, along with Ritter's bridge construction over split bedrock, which Engel touted as "super."

The men welcome trail volunteers who can help with maintenance and construction of trails, or individuals or businesses who can offer use of excavating equipment. Monetary donations also are welcome in the name of Split Rock Trails at the city's municipal building.

To find Split Rock Trails, take Putnam Avenue to Sunday Lake Mine Road and, from there, take the first road to the right, which leads to the parking lot.

Trail maps are available at the Wakefield Visitors and Information Center.

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