DNR completes motorized easement purchases
January 28, 2021
By RICHARD JENKINS
Ironwood — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has completed the purchase of a pair of permanent motorized easements in the Western Upper Peninsula, the DNR announced Tuesday, securing a total of 67 miles of trail access for a combined price of $985,969.
One will secure roughly 56 miles of 30-foot trail access in parts of Gogebic, Ontonagon, Dickinson, Houghton and Iron counties, according to the DNR’s announcement. The DNR paid $832,968 to the Keweenaw Land Association for the easement purchase using the Michigan Permanent Snowmobile Easement Fund.
The Gogebic County easements in the purchase are located in Marenisco, Ironwood, Watersmeet, Wakefield and Bessemer townships, according to information from the DNR, while the Ontonagon easements are located in Standard, Bergland and Matchwood townships.
The second agreement has the DNR paying New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber LLC $153,000 to acquire an easement for 11 miles of 30-foot trail in Greenland, Ontonagon and Rockland townships using Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund money.
“This certainly is good news,” said Ron Yesney, U.P. trails coordinator with the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. “Having permanent trail easements is an important advance for our western Upper Peninsula trail network.”
“Keweenaw Land Association is proud to be a partner with the DNR, local trail networks and users in the Upper Peninsula,” Keweenaw president Mark Sherman said in the DNR’s announcement. “We are excited to work with the DNR to ensure that trails in the western Upper Peninsula are permanently available for future generations to enjoy.
“We recognize the important economic role that recreational trails play in our communities … KLA has been an Upper Peninsula company for many generations and we care about the viability of our communities and people.”
The agreement with Keweenaw preserves access on existing trails that are primarily snowmobile trails.
Although there will be additional benefits locally, Gogebic Range Trail Authority President Steve Hamilton said that permanency was one of the biggest benefits of the easements.
He explained that easements create a protection for the trails on private land that the alternative -- land-use permits -- don’t offer and that trails without easements have been closed in the past after the landowners ran into problems with users.
“Now, these landowners have to find a way to either reroute the trail, help us find a way through or allow us to have dual-use on a logging road,” Hamilton said. He made clear the GRTA was still very willing to work with landowners to find an amicable solution to any issues, even with the establishment of the easements.
Hamilton said an additional benefit in Gogebic County from the easements will be expansion of trail access to all four seasons as they will be able to be opened to off-road vehicles, reducing the amount of road miles needed in the county.
“We’re going to take 10 miles of people running Lake Road, or Vanderhagen or Junet Road; we’re going to eliminate that,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to get that off-road traffic off of the busy roads and into the woods where it belongs.
“It’s really going to dramatically increase the rider experience for off-road vehicles here in our area … and really just help usher in the next motorsport economic engine for summertime season.”
This is especially beneficial locally as Hamilton said the majority of motorized trail users in the Ironwood area are ORV users rather than snowmobilers.
“So for our club, it was a big thing for us to try and listen to our members and (get the ORV access),” Hamilton said.
He said he was very pleased to hear the DNR had completed the purchase.
“It’s been a long-time coming, it was almost emotional for me to take that call just because of how important the trail is to me,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton specifically singled out the inclusion of the Mud Creek Bridge section of Snowmobile Trail 160 in Ironwood Township as something he is excited about. He said the GRTA has been working for several years to open the bridge for summer ORV use, but Keweenaw Land has always declined due to trespassing issues.
He credited the company for reaching the agreement with the DNR.
“Keweenaw Land went to bat for us … with the state and obtained that permanent easement access for this piece of property,” Hamilton said. “There will be some significant steps and some process that has to be done to really create this access, but we now have the permanent easement — all we have to do is put a trail proposal plan in place, do some basic signage and away we go.”
Hamilton said the easements also open the door for better and more access for riders and added the GRTA will likely approach the state about funding the Powers Road Recreation Area through the Keweenaw Land Association’s Mud Creek Trail section as a state-funded ORV trail. This would bring more money to the GRTA for better signage and more trail maintenance in the season.
“We’ll be able to tap into both ORV and snowmobile funds to really make this trail something special,” Hamilton said.