The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

GRTA heats up cold day with pancake breakfast


January 28, 2019


Wakefield — Even with below-zero temperatures, the atmosphere in the Wakefield VFW was jumping Saturday morning as the Gogebic Range Trail Authority held its inaugural pancake breakfast for hungry residents and snowmobilers. Cooks Chris Umland and Scott Segel flipped pancakes in the kitchen, along with eggs and sausage as other volunteers took orders and brought plates to customers.

Chris and Melissa Umland and vice-president Jerry Nezworski “spearheaded” the event, according to GRTA president Steve Hamilton. Robert Lane and his wife Ally, from Wakefield got out in the weather to enjoy the breakfast and support the cause. “Best pancakes I’ve had in a while,” Robert Lane said. The traffic was steady through the morning as patrons came and enjoyed raffles and purchased clothing to support the club along with the meal.

Crossing the highway

According to Hamilton, the compounded long-term goal for trails is to open access to Wakefield both north and south of US 2 to add value to the trail system and give direct access to the ski hills. The past situation with snowmobiles trying to cross the highway at Prospect Road into Ramsay was dangerous and untenable. A temporary crossing in a different spot has been built, and Hamilton hoped this spring and summer will allow the group to further reduce the amount snowmobilers need to travel on roads. The desired outcome is to build a snowmobile trail to have an opening by Alpine Campground west of Blackjack and Indianhead ski hills. Alpine is seeking to make their campground “ORV friendly,” according to Hamilton.

Partnering with government

The club is a partner with the state of Michigan to build and maintain trails in the area along with their own initiatives. The “guys in green” from the Michigan DNR have been “wonderful to work with” in partnership, he said. “It’s pretty impressive what they can do, as snowmobiling becomes big business in the area.” Traffic is increasing as the trails are consistently better groomed and the area has been a magnet for snowmobiling because of the consistent early snows that gave the area around Lake Superior a head start on the season. The club is learning to work with the MDNR, Gogebic County Road Commission, Wakefield Township and others to see improvement and make the trails a showpiece. The trails near the ski hills, featuring access to skiing and waterfalls is “Pure Michigan,” according to Hamilton.

Keeping up the trails

The club currently has two groomers to cover their area, and is hoping to expand their barn and add a third unit. They are looking forward to getting a loan to go to work on expansion, and have sought donations, even getting a $10,000 dollar donation from a snowmobile club in Tennessee that does a run on Lake Gogebic.

The Trail Authority grooms 100 miles of trails from Marenisco, to Bergland, to Winchester, Wis. to Saxon Harbor, with one consecutive stretch of 34 miles. In addition, the groomer operators for the group are all volunteers. Hamilton said “we don’t have the infrastructure” to have paid professionals do the grooming at this point. Volunteers put in a lot of hours every day to keep the trails at a high level.

Looking to the future

Youth ambassadors Austin Ahonen, Anthony Eismueller and Sam Hautala of Wakefield represent the future of the club. The trio was busy setting tables and cleaning up, but said they were enjoying the experience. They are avid snowmobilers and have been spending a lot of time on their sleds recently. They stated it was not uncommon to see groups of 10-15 snowmobilers at a time. The three are ages 14-16, and are being encouraged to lead and are hoping to run the groomers in the future also. “They (other members) invest time, and we have the nicest trails around,” said Eismueller. All said they loved the outdoors, whether it be snowmobiling or ice fishing or skiing. “We’re outdoors every weekend,” Ahonen said.

Trail safety

Michigan DNR officers Zach Painter and Jennifer Hanson were also on hand to enjoy the breakfast and talked about their partnership with the club. Hanson said she has been attending some of the group’s meetings and said she “learns better what I can do to help them” reach their shared goals. While the rank-and-file officers do not assist so much with planning, it is useful to work with the groups to better enforce the rules of the road.

She stated that a primary goal for conservation officers was trail safety. There have been fatalities in the snowmobile season already this year, and Painter said that factors that are problems are high speed, careless driving, missing stop signs and impaired drivers.

Hanson added that a big problem is snowmobilers renting or running snowmobiles that are too powerful for the rider to use safely. “People come up and they don’t have the knowledge. They come up and rent the best sled, unfortunately it will be one of the fastest, and if they don’t know how to control it, that can be dangerous,” she said.

They also stated that snowmobilers and outdoor enthusiasts need to make sure they are dressed for the weather.  Hanson stated that she had to help a snowmobiler that broke down and was suffering from frostbite on Friday.

‘Extra effort’ noticed by outsiders

Also enjoying the breakfast was snowmobiler Jeff Brutger, from Woodbury, Minn. He has been coming to the area for recreation since the 1980s, and sees the rejuvenated GRTA as a force to improve recreation. He highlighted the hard work for the GRTA and others to work with landowners, obtain permits and easements and maintain trails. “They’re working hard at it,” he said. “Especially for an all-volunteer group, they do a lot of extra-effort things, like busting a trail to motels to give travelers and businesses extra opportunity.” Brutger has enjoyed the outdoors so much here that he purchased a home in Wakefield and comes most weekends throughout the year. He stated that when he talks to other snowmobilers from different areas, the trails cared for by GRTA are getting a good reputation as well-maintained. A challenge, he said, is to be able to secure connecting trails to other farther areas. As lands where trails run changes hands, a new set of partnerships needs to be built and this is a constant challenge. 


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