By RICHARD JENKINS
Bessemer - Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Gogebic Range Trail Authority still wanted to recognize its supporters and volunteers for their contributions to maintaining the snowmobile trail system in western Gogebic County.
Although the pandemic prevented the large gathering at the club's traditional banquet, GRTA officials had those being recognized gather at the GRTA grooming barn in the Bessemer Industrial Park Tuesday.
The club awarded president Steve Hamilton with the Calvin Kangas volunteer of the year award, Dan Cox as groomer of the year, and the Ironwood Tourism Council as sponsor of the year.
Hamilton praised the tourism council for their continued support of the club and said it shows the commitment to motorized tourism.
"They've really been a critical partner for us last season, and this season we expect an even greater partnership with them," he said. "Ironwood anchors our system, as do all the hotels and motels in Ironwood that fund the Ironwood Tourism Council."
The GRTA maintains 100 miles of trails in the western two-thirds of Gogebic County.
"It spans about 40 miles as the crow flies," Hamilton said. "We go from Saxon Harbor all the way down to the state line in Winchester."
This year, the club is back to having three groomers in its fleet to maintain those trail miles, according to Hamilton, who estimated the club has already logged over 2,000 volunteer hours this year preparing the trails for the snowmobile season.
He's optimistic about the season, saying he hopes to have some of the first trails open Dec. 1.
"I would say right now, if we don't have any major warm-ups, we're sitting in pretty good shape," Hamilton said. "We've had some good cold temps, we've have had a lot of moisture - there is a lot of water running in the woods yet -- but temperature wise ... we seem to be ahead of where we were last year."
He did warn that even if trails are open, early season riding can be hazardous in some places if there isn't a lot of snow on the ground.
This winter will feature a new route for Trail 11 South between Wakefield and the state border near Winchester, Wisconsin, as the trail returns to its historic route on Keweenaw Land Association property.
"Keweenaw had been doing extensive logging for the last decade along this trail," Hamilton said, explaining the trail was relocated onto federal land during the logging operation.
"Now the shoe's on the other foot, the federal property is being logged aggressively over the next four or five years so we need to move back to our old route."
Another change in trail routes this upcoming season is a change where the trail crosses U.S. 2 near Ramsay. Hamilton said the club was notified in December that they lost a land-use permit needed to facilitate the new crossing.
"That took our club over two years to come up with and it was lost in a weekend," Hamilton said. With the access loss, he said the crossing is relocated to about 150 yards west of Ramsay Road
The GRTA also hopes to receive final approval in the next week or so for the club's Ironwood project, where they are looking to develop a looped trail in the city to provide access from Trail 2 near the AmericInn on U.S. 2 to the areas around the Aurora Club, Manny's and the Norrie Club.
As the GRTA is always looking for additional volunteers, the club is planning a groomer operator training for 5 p.m. Nov. 28 for anyone interested in getting involved.
More information on the GRTA can be found on the club's Facebook page.