Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

MECCA expands trail offerings


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MERCER, Wis. — Although the MECCA Cross Country Ski Trails are already a popular winter destination, the club hopes it will soon draw visitors year-round.

MECCA President Mike Shouldice said that along with the normal brushing and trail maintenance, the club is planning a project to allow users to take advantage of the 13 miles of ski trails during the warmer weather.

“We’re hoping to transform MECCA from just a winter sports venue to a year-round trail system,” Shouldice said. “There really aren’t a lot of (hiking) trails real close to Mercer — there are a few out on the Flowage.”

Shouldice said the trail system crosses two wetlands that has prevented year-round use. The club plans to work with the Iron County Forestry and Parks Department to construct boardwalks over the wetlands to fully open the trail system between the MECCA cabin and the trailhead off Joe’s Shack Road.

He hopes the project will get done this fall.

Once complete, Shouldice said the boardwalk will give users a variety of options if they wish to explore the trail system.

“The trails are looped — so if somebody wanted to go for a 2-mile hike, they could take one of the loops; if they wanted to go for a 5-mile hike, or a 10-mile hike, they could just mix and match the different (loops),” Shouldice said.

He said he also plans to survey the club members prior to the club’s July meeting regarding their thoughts on transitioning to a four-season trail system and what changes may stem from the decision.

The boardwalks are also expected to extend the winter ski season.

“Right now, we can’t ski until those wetlands freeze,” Shouldice said. “But if we have the boardwalks in place, we have six inches of snow and we’d be … skiing and we wouldn’t have to worry about the wetlands freezing.”

Along with transitioning to a year-round trail system, Shouldice said the club is also tripling its 1.1-miles of snowshoe trails.

He said the construction of 2.2 miles of new snowshoe trails should be complete by winter.

“The guys who have been working on it over the last month say it’s just a beautiful trail system, and it leaves right from the chalet on Fierick Road,” Shouldice said.

The club is also planning the group’s three annual events — the winter kickoff in partnership with the Mercer Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mercer Fire and EMS Departments scheduled for the first Wednesday in December, the candlelight ski and snowshoe event set for the last Saturday in January, and one-day competitive event that is being planned for Feb. 20.

While the coronavirus pandemic has cancelled most of the area’s events this summer, Shouldice said the club is monitoring the situation and will look for guidance from health department officials and proceed from there.

“If we can’t do it safely, we won’t do it,” Shouldice said.

In some ways, the club may be more ready than most to accept sudden cancelations than other groups as many of its events are very dependent on the weather and snow conditions and can be cancelled the day before or day of events.

Even without the wetland crossings, Shouldice said the trails are mostly accessible from the Joe’s Shack Road trailhead.

“If you want to go for a hike, park your car at the Little Turtle Wildlife parking lot off Joe’s Shack Road and you can get to 75% of the trail system from there,” Shouldice said, explaining the wetlands are within half a mile of the MECCA cabin.

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