September 21, 2007
The Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and other snowmobile enthusiasts are on a campaign to prevent trail closures in their area — and across the state of Michigan.
The group has started a petition in reaction to at least three landowners adjacent to abandoned tail beds who have blocked rail grades in the Houghton area. At issue is who has rights to the rail grade.
The trails in question include a route from Houghton to Chassel which is not marked as a designated snowmobile trail, but is considered a recreational trail — including for snowmobile use — by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
If or when legal action will take place is yet-to-be determined. The case is being reviewed by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. However, should the barricades be allowed to remain, it could set a precedent for other rail-trail blockades in the state, said Neil Marieta, owner of Bunker Hill Recreation in Hancock, Michigan.
The susceptibility of a rail trail to closure depends on how it was ceded to the state for recreational use, said Ron Yesney, a recreation specialist for the Michigan DNR. If the grades were turned over as “interim trails,” meaning it’s reserved for potential future railroad use, then its use as a trail is safe. But only a small percentage of the trails have that designation, Yesney said. The blocked trails in question are owned by the DNR, but are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation.
At least 18 Keweenaw-area municipalities have adopted a resolution stating that they support preserving abandoned railroad grade corridors for future rail use and interim use as public trails, Marieta said.
In the meantime, the Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce has sent out two appeals to the snowmobiling public, both within Michigan and to snowmobilers who ride in Michigan. First, they’re asking people to sign a petition to “preserve abandoned railroad grade corridors for future rail use and interim use as public trails in the state of Michigan.” Petitions are available at www.keewenaw.org or www.bunkerhillrecreation.com. Click on the “Facts from the Mayor” button.
It’s also asking Michigan residents to write to state representatives and leaders to ask them to take swift, aggressive action against those who block public trails.
September 21, 2007