Unique bicycle trails for all levels of riders

ALPENA — From Great Lakes to inland lakes to wetlands to woodlands, Northeast Michigan is able to boast about its diverse and aesthetically pleasing area to live and play. This also includes a unique set of bicycle trail systems for riders of all levels and different wants.

The trail systems in Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties allow for paved shoreline rides, single-track bike trails, or a limestone covered trail that meanders from Alpena all the way to Mackinaw City and beyond, depending on the rider’s preference.

“It’s the best kept secret in Michigan for mountain biking because it is so unknown,” Thunder Bay Trail Association President Tommy Dowd said. “Sometimes it’s so unknown we don’t get the recognition that we deserve.”

This year TBTA created its new master plan that outlines its short-term and long-term goals for areas it helps to manage which include Norway Ridge Pathway, Chippewa Hills and the Rockport Recreation Area. The latter is working toward developing its trail system and camping offerings.

TBTA member Randy Fairbanks said the premier destination for single track mountain biking is Chippewa Hills but other areas can offer unique challenges and features. Fairbanks highlighted Rockport Recreation Area and Black Mountain Forest Recreation Area as locations that have tremendous potential.

“We have quite a diverse set of trails which people can use but we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” he said.

While highlighting many of the area’s offerings that came through close cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fairbanks said it has not come without significant difficulties in working through what he saw as bureaucratic red tape between different divisions in the DNR and other state agencies.

“Sometimes we feel the Parks and Recreation and the Forestry Division kick us back and forth when we’re trying to make improvements or legitimize trail systems,” he said.

At Norway Ridge the group was looking to install new culverts to manage the drainage and wetlands, Fairbanks said. But the initiative was stalled as the culverts did not meet the specs of the Department of Environmental Quality as the agency wanted boardwalks installed instead of the already donated culverts.

This was a difficult predicament for Fairbanks as he said culverts would have come with minimum cost and little future maintenance while the boardwalks would be expensive and require more maintenance.

But this doesn’t the mean the group is doing nothing. According to Dowd, the group has two weeks in September set aside to remove and reinstall a boardwalk in Norway. He said there were several other projects in the works across the aforementioned sites that include expanding trail systems, legitimizing some currently unrecognized trails and even possibly helping to remove stumps and repair trails damaged through forest management at Chippewa Hills.

Dowd also pointed to the already existing limestone trails that have replaced the railway system that used to be in place. This includes the Alpena to Hillman Trail and the Rails to Trail that spans from Alpena to Mackinaw City.

And the projects in the works at the various state lands are gaining momentum, Dowd said. This was because the group has been able to make personable connections with personnel at the DNR.

“We are working with the DNR to create a destination place for cyclists to come and camp from beginners all the way up to the experts,” he said.

Emily Meyerson, DNR lower northern Michigan trail coordinator, said right now the state does not have specific plans for projects but is open to working with local groups such as TBTA.

“I would love to work with the TBTA to get a state of the art trail system but it takes a partner and they’ve got to be willing to work,” she said. “We all have to work together on these projects.”

More than just the plentiful trails on state land, groups have formed for weekly road riding. To Dowd and Fairbanks the mission was to get as many people on their bikes to not just the benefit of their personal health but to the community as a whole.

Dowd said as the group and area gain recognition it not only will have more sway with the DNR to hopefully help move forward with some of its proposals, but also bring in people from outside the area to boost the local economy.

It was not just the trail system or the land features either, the draw can be seen in the amenities offered from Alpena and the surrounding communities. Dowd said the work that has been done and is in the works will attract the attention of bicyclists from around the state.

“All of Northeast Michigan, but in particular Alpena County, is a diamond in the rough and if done right could bring in 100,000 people annually,” Dowd said. “We have everything here for our outdoor enthusiasts and we also don’t have the overcrowding problem other areas do.”

Tyler Winowiecki can be reached via email at twinowiecki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Tyler on Twitter tw_alpenanews.