The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Backwoods trail represents link between local towns


September 21, 2018

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

FROM LEFT, Wakefield City Manager Richard Brackney; Kim Kolesar, secretary of the former Western Upper Peninsula Trail Assocation; and Wakefield Township Supervisor John Cox pose next to a new kiosk across from the Wakefield Fire Hall near a trail connecting Wakefield and Marenisco.


Editor's note: The following story is the first of a three-part series.

Wakefield - Many people may drive by the Wakefield Fire Hall on the city's main street without paying attention to the unpaved trail emerging from the brush on the other side of the road.

The surrounding site is undeveloped and unadorned, so busy drivers may not realize that the unnamed, eastbound trail can take them on a 16-mile journey to Marenisco.

As of this past summer, however, a new kiosk helps to mark the trailhead, thanks to funds donated from the now defunct Western Upper Peninsula Trail Association.

WUPTA was the former off-road vehicle sponsor of a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. It partnered with the Gogebic Range Trail Authority, which is the DNR's snowmobile sponsor of the trail.

In recent interviews with the Globe, state and local officials explained how various entities have helped, gradually, to create a system that can be enjoyed in all seasons by snow machines, four-wheelers, hikers, bikers, horseback riders and more.

"I've been working on it about 15 years," said Ron Yesney, who is the Upper Peninsula Trails Coordinator of the DNR's Parks and Recreation Division. Although various setbacks have occurred, he said the trail is close to being a viable link within a 150-mile state-designated route that runs from Hurley beyond Marenisco, with eventual goals of U.P.-wide connections.

Yesney said WUPTA and GRTA both have made valuable contributions to the trail, but said the state's suggestion they share grant sponsorship for trail maintenance "didn't pan out" and both parties requested to end their alliance.

"We saw things differently," said Steve Hamilton, president of GRTA. "Just a difference in perspective, really. Having two clubs manage the same trail in different seasons wasn't working out."

Ross Kolesar, who was president of WUPTA until it dissolved last year as a state nonprofit organization, said his group did not always agree with GRTA about how to route or maintain trails.

Yesney expressed regret at WUPTA's demise, describing its members as "a lot of great people" and adding, "They did a lot of great things. I really appreciated their work."

As he summed it up, "A lot of people try and do the right things. Sometimes they have different ideas of how to go about it."

Yesney said Ontonagon's Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment has taken over where WUPTA left off.

Don Helsel, MI-TRALE president, said his group normally has responsibility for about 320 miles of DNR-designated trails in five counties, from Marenisco to Baraga. "We didn't really want to do more," he said, but added, "We were requested by the DNR to do it for one year."

Hence, he said the group regards itself as the trail's temporary ORV sponsor for 2018. At issue, he said, is about $55,000 that would have been lost in relation to trail funds already allocated from the DNR for this year.

If MI-TRALE hadn't stepped up, he said, "A year would have been lost in the effort."

Helsel said this year's DNR funds for the route cover brushing and grading, beaver control, and the "critical" need to design and construct one bridge and three culverts.

According to Yesney, the MDNR purchased an easement of old railroad grade between Sunday Lake Road and Korpela Road, but the land required attention to facilitate trail continuity.

"It's been challenging," said Helsel of the engineering design still under way by OMH Advisors, of Hancock, "but we didn't want to let it slide because we consider the access to Ironwood and Hurley critical."

As Yesney said in describing the association of trails with each community, "There's a lot of economic development with these trails."

Although MI-TRALE's responsibility for the trail between Wakefield and Marenisco will end when the DNR selects a new ORV sponsor for 2019, Helsel said MI-TRALE members then will work with the new group toward a smooth transition.

According to Helsel, next year's funds for the same trail will be designated for actual construction relating to the bridge and culverts.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019