Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

GRTA gets final funding for $600,000 ORV trail project


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Wakefield — The Gogebic Range Trail Authority has reported that a $450,000 state budget appropriation has been allotted for ORV trail work between Wakefield and Marenisco.

GRTA President Steve Hamilton said the project already had been approved for $250,000 from the state’s trail permit program. The new funds will bring the project total to $600,000.

On Monday, Hamilton told the Globe that the money will cover completion of construction within an ORV trail known as the State Line Route.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources will execute the work, with Ruotsala Construction of Ironwood expected to break ground in March of 2021. Hamilton estimated that the work may be completed within 60 days, depending on the weather.

He said the project will include a preconfigured bridge over Jackson Creek, as well as box culverts within Koskela Road and Pikka Road. General grading along the route also will occur.

According to Hamilton, about 4 miles of the trail runs through the city and township of Wakefield.

The route connects to a trail system that runs from Hurley, Wisconsin, through Ironwood, Bessemer, Ramsay, Wakefield and Marenisco. A segment called the IM Route then runs from Marenisco to Iron River, Michigan. The entire run from Hurley to Iron River is nearly 100 miles.

Trail systems can be a confusing network because — as Hamilton noted — the ORV trails are named formally via an “alpha” or letter system whereas snowmobile trails are named numerically or alphanumerically.

In addition, many trails serve double duty for ORVs in warm weather months and for snowmobiles in winter months. Some multiuse trails also allow mountain bikes or horses.

Hence, snowmobilers know the Hurley-to-Iron River route simply as Trail 2.

Hamilton said that nearly all ORV routes are managed by nonprofit clubs such as GRTA that do not have access to the variety of funds available to the Iron Belle Trail, which is the paved walking and biking trail that so far runs between Hurley and Ramsay and is expected eventually to link all the way to Detroit.

That’s part of why Hamilton told the Wakefield City Council at its final December meeting of 2020 that members of his volunteer snowmobile club were “excited” about the new project funds for the State Line Trail.

He thanked council members for having provided a letter of support for the funding initiative that began about two and a half years ago.

Hamilton is grateful for a “tremendous amount” of area advocacy. He said all local communities provided letters to back the plans.

In addition, he said Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township) and Richard Kennedy, the motorized trails program analyst in Lansing, also helped to facilitate state funds. Overall, Hamilton applauded the state for “outstanding” work on the trails.

“This expansion is really important to us,” he said. “It’s definitely going to change the trail dynamic.”

Hamilton explained that current trail users are able to travel between Wakefield and Marenisco only by using off-route segments onto actual roadways.

Once the State Line Trail work is complete, he said it will reduce ORV noise on roadways, save time for trail riders, and “tremendously increase safety.”

He also credited his volunteer team and said club members are “firm believers” that good trails help the local economy by allowing trail users to flow through this region while patronizing local businesses.

In the past summer and fall, Hamilton said his crew worked on the existing trail system, brushing and widening it and addressing signage.

He said GRTA is contracted with the state to maintain 15 miles of state-funded ORV trails and 96 miles of state-funded snowmobiling trails.

Hamilton called the trails an “inherited” system from the Western U.P. Trail Advocates, which was formerly called the Western U.P. Trail Association. WUPTA originally set up the area’s first motorized trails.