A major connecting trail in the far western edge of Michigan’s famed Upper Peninsula will be closed this winter, unless some late-breaking solution is found for a re-route for the trail.
Michigan Trail 2, a major state trail in the Western U.P. that connects Ironwood in the west to Escanaba in the east, is affected for a short stretch north of the town of Wakefield. The problem is, no alternative route has been found, meaning Trail 2 will take a rider near Wakefield and then stop, only to pick up again later on the other side. That puts a major dent in the trail system, and there’s no other thru-route in the area. For riders, that means there’s no longer an easy way to connect the Ironwood/Bessemer area to the rest of the U.P. trail system without dropping pretty far south into Wisconsin and then coming back up.
Previously, the trail crossed land owned by a local ski resort, but the resort’s new owners have rejected potential solutions to keep that trail open.
Directly below is a statement put out this week by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Below that is a recap of the situation from the Gogebic Range Trail Authority, which was posted today (October 26, as this is being written) on Facebook. The area that is affected is circled on the in black and highlighted on the shown map, though it’s a bit obscured by the “2” label.
Probable closure of Trail No. 2 in Gogebic County would significantly impact western UP snowmobiling
A change of ownership at a western Upper Peninsula ski resort has resulted in the probable closure of an important stretch of snowmobile trail managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Gogebic Range Trail Authority in Gogebic County.
Snow River Mountain Resort (formerly Big Snow Resorts aka Indianhead and Blackjack) – part of Midwest Family Ski Resorts – announced in a Sept. 13 email the resort would no longer allow snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle operation on resort property.
The closure would eliminate trail access between Wakefield and Ironwood, affecting the communities of Bessemer and Ironwood most directly.
Significant hurdles exist to finding a reroute, though DNR, community officials and the Gogebic Range Trail Authority are working hard to find a solution.
Among the obstacles to a reroute are the Black River, Plymouth Pit, large concentrations of private land holdings, and only high-traffic paved roadways heading east and west between Wakefield and Bessemer.
“We understand that property owners have the right to revoke access to their land,” said Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator. “Nearly 50% of our snowmobile trails are on private land, however, this particular closure puts snowmobiling opportunities and connectivity in the western U.P. in a tough spot.”
The DNR will continue to explore options for possible alternate routes and is willing to work with the Snow River Mountain Resort should they reconsider allowing snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles to cross their property.
Gogebic Range Trail Authority Statement
The GRTA regrets to confirm that Michigan snowmobile trail 2 in far western Gogebic County will be closed this season from Sunday Lake in Wakefield to Ramsay Crossing in Bessemer Township.
Snowmobile trail 2 is the western most gateway to thousands of miles of world-renowned snowmobile trails in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On peak holiday weekends nearly 3,000 snowmobiles a day travel the route. Currently there is no agreed upon road route or other option with any township or other governmental entity to re-connect the trail. The club is starting those efforts and seeks community support.
We sincerely thank the City of Wakefield’s Robert Brown & Mike Zeckovich, Bessemer and Wakefield Township Supervisors Jeff Randall and Mandy Lake, Michigan DNR Law Enforcement Officer Jennifer Hansen, Rep. Greg Markkanen, and the Michigan DNR for standing by the GRTA as we wade through this economically catastrophic situation.
In our first in-person meeting with Midwest Family Ski Resorts (owner of SnowRiver Mountain Resort) September 28th, they made it clear their interests were preventing snowmobilers from entering their property. Midwest Family Ski Resorts stated they do not view snowmobiling as a family friendly sport compatible with “their style of family-friendly” business. Midwest Family Ski Resorts outlined three ultimatums to achieve a one year temporary trail. Firstly they requested local stakeholders provide a $12 million excess layer liability policy in addition to the $2 million already provided; the city of Wakefield, Townships of Wakefield and Bessemer, and the Michigan DNR indemnify Midwest Family Ski Resorts; and finally a modest reroute of the trail around the old Indianhead summit. Midwest’s owner Charles Skinner expected all costs be the responsibility of local governments or other various stakeholders but suggested they would donate $5k towards the costs.
Within a few days after that meeting it was relayed back to Midwest Family Ski Resorts that indemnification wasn’t something local governments could lawfully provide. Additionally, no local government was able to get anywhere with their insurance providers. The feedback from insurance providers was the request lacked precedence and risk due to stout Michigan landowner liability protections. Insuring snowmobiles beyond that as a governmental entity would be uncharted territory and cost prohibitive. As communications continued Midwest Family Ski Resorts reduced their insurance coverage request down to $5 million and said they’d ask their insurance provider for a quote since all other sources returned no-quotes. During the wait for feedback on their investigative efforts our partners at the MDNR requested the state’s Attorney General’s office to offer a one-on-one meeting with Midwest Family Ski Resort’s team. On October 14th GRTA followed MDNR communication with an offer to purchase a small sliver of land around the exterior of their property to fully vacate any perceived liability exposure. Midwest’s concern centered on safety and liability and these solutions resolved both. The club was only able to offer that purchase gesture after being approached by regional donors looking to solve the issue and provide access.
On the evening of October 18th during a GRTA board meeting Mr. Skinner issued a statement to the GRTA expressing the conclusion of their efforts working with GRTA, our communities, and the MDNR to save Snowmobile Trail 2. Skinner’s team said on the phone the primary hurdle was their insurance company allegedly now just becoming aware of the snowmobile trail on their property. Skinner’s team elaborated further that their insurance provider, Safehold Insurance, would not insure them going forward if they engaged in snowmobile activities across the property. Safehold is the same vendor the previous owners utilized the last 7 years the trail ran on the property. This was shocking news as the previous ownership advertised and offered snowmobile rentals from their Indianhead location. Complicating our understanding is that Safehold also insures another U.P. ski hill that advertises and markets to snowmobilers, Ski-Brule of Iron River, MI.
We call on businesses across the Midwest who support Midwest snowmobiling to start drafting your letter of support and impact. We ask you – the snowmobilers and skiers – to draft your letters of support and impact. You can mail them to GRTA, 708 W Longyear ST, Bessemer, MI 49911. You can email them to email@example.com. Please, contact your local representative and senator and demand their action in saving snowmobile trail 2 and building phase 3 of the Iron Belle Trail through this difficult area. It’s time the Western U.P. permanently connects its tremendous trails for the benefit of all.
Pictured is Ramsay Crossing, 10/19/22
-GRTA Board of Directors