Snowmobile club sees new challenges

Western UP

BESSEMER, Mich. (WJMN) – Gogebic Range Trail Authority says this winter low snow levels and the COVID-19 pandemic are presenting new challenges to their club.

Steve Hamilton, GRTA president, says over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays he saw more issues with off-trail riding than ever before. Hamilton says the club thinks several things contributed to the issue.

“We had the most snow for the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin and it ended up resulting in about a 100-mile, 150-mile swath of ridable terrain between the Michigan and Wisconsin trail systems,” said Hamilton. “So you had a really small condensed zone for people to ride in and it was the first snow really of the season and it’s this late into the season and so everybody’s, you know they are just so eager to come ride and we think that with the amount of riders that were in our area that really eroded our trail quality pretty quickly much faster than what normally happens on busy weekends like that.”

Another contributing factor was a misconception that Michigan bars and restaurants were completely closed. Hamilton says a lot of the clubs local sponsors were open for takeout or restroom use but the misconception they were closed caused riders to spend more time on the trails.

“Snowmobilers typically eat two, one to two meals a day on a snowmobile and stop to warm up throughout their day of riding and they really didn’t have places to do that or at least it was what we encountered was this thought that people just thought that these businesses were closed like you couldn’t go inside, you couldn’t do anything,” said Hamilton.

Another factor is the increase in people interested in off-trail riding.

“All the way over here in the Ironwood area in the far western U.P. we really draw a lot of out of state users from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, and they come up to our area in droves as soon as the snow flies and we love that,” said Hamilton. “You know our area is very dependent on that in the winter for a lot of our businesses but the issue comes up is you know they want to come up and ride good snow and a lot of them want to do off trail riding now.”

Much of Michigan’s ORV trail system runs through private land. When people ride off trails, property owners may eventually pull trail use agreements and close sections of the trails.

“We live here, these are our communities, these are our neighbors, these are our friends that allow our beautiful trail systems to go through their property and we don’t take too kindly to people disrespecting them or them feeling disrespected,” said Hamilton.

When private land is trespassed on from the trails, GRTA works to prevent it from happening again. Hamilton says they put up ribbon, signs and talk to landowners.

“The first thing we have to do is talk to the landowner and really make amends, apologize,” said Hamilton. “Once we get through that we then have to call our board members, alert our board members ‘hey this is what we have going on’ I work full time, many of our board members still work full time and we then have to assemble a team, it’s pretty standard now, ribbon up and signs up and posts up.”

Hamilton says they’ve also begun putting up trail cameras to help deter riders from choosing to break rules. This takes away from their time working on their grooming equipment according to Hamilton.

“When it comes to funding I mean this was you know it’s several thousand dollars a year that we’re spending on signage, on ribbon, on two by two post to put in the ground, you don’t think screws are expensive until you’re buying them you know 50 pounds a shot and they’re disappearing every year,” said Hamilton. “But it’s costing our club a lot of extra money that we wish we could use for trail development purposes or trail enhancements purposes, adding better signage, adding lights to our equipment it’s just an unlimited list of different that we would rather spend money on.”

There are places in the Upper Peninsula where snowmobiles are allowed off trails. One such place is the Ottawa National Forest. Riders still need to be conscious of where they are riding to ensure they don’t enter the protected wilderness area or someone’s private property.

Watch part one of the full interview with Steve Hamilton here:

Keep a lookout next week for tips on snowmobiling in the Upper Peninsula from the Gogebic Range Trail Authority.

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