ALPENA - Local waterfowl hunters are concerned about lack of access to state forest land on Partridge Point now that the Department of Natural Resources has limited entry to the land.
In an effort to curb illegal off-road vehicle use, a longtime issue on the 53-acre parcel, the Michigan Department of Resources constructed two gravel parking lots on the property, Cody Stevens, DNR Forest Resources Division's Atlanta unit manager, said. These were built after attempts by the department's law enforcement to catch ORV users on the property proved ineffective.
The parking lots are an attempt to stop ORV damage to exposed bottomlands, once covered by the waters of Lake Huron, while keeping the land open to legal users, Stevens said. When the department's wildlife, fisheries, forestry and law enforcement divisions met to decide what to do, they decided to place one parking lot as close to the shoreline as possible. With input from the Department of Environmental Quality and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, those who park in the east lot should have a 75-yard walk to the water.
"We did our best to make it as close as we could, following the DEQ and Army Corps of Engineers," he said. "We tried to make it easy for folks to use."
For Bill Gohl, who hunts ducks and geese on the land, the boulders stopping ORV drivers also prevent him from using an informal boat launch on the east end of the property, he said. It also means he has to lug decoys and other equipment from parking lot to field.
Sgt. Joe Molnar, DNR Law Enforcement, said he has one officer assigned to Alpena County. At most, there would be two working a county with a wealth of state land. This means stopping problems like ORV use at Partridge Point can be challenging.
"We tried repeatedly to be in the area to issue citations to individuals who are damaging the resource, but due to manpower constraints, what enforcement we have done has been minimal ... but not for a lack of trying," he said. "This resource does need to be protected, and individuals will still be able to walk out to hunting areas, and walk out to the shoreline to enjoy it. They might just have a further walk."
At one point, the land was a homestead before it was transferred to the state, said Lee Grant, who hunts there. The drive where the east parking lot is being built once went to a house. Over time, people made an informal boat launch at the end of the drive, and some even referred to the single lane as "launch road."
Duck hunting on Partridge Point is a tradition for Grant, he said. The member of the Northeast Michigan chapter of Ducks Unlimited said he started hunting out there with his grandfather, and his family has land on the point.
"It's definitely not the best duck hunting in the world, it's more of a convenient place because it's close," he said, adding it also provided access to adjacent Squaw Bay.
Grant said he recognizes the need to keep ORV users from damaging the property, he said. However, he'd still like to be able to drive up to the boat launch. Without an easy way to launch a boat, duck hunting becomes tricky. Any duck that falls in the water can be pushed by the wind beyond a hunter's reach, even when using waders, and 75 yards is a long way to carry a rowboat.
Off-road vehicles are allowed only on designated trails, Lt. Jim Gorno, DNR Law Enforcement Division, said. The trails near Devil's Lake are the only ones in the county. It's legal for any road-licensed vehicle to drive on most two-tracks on state land.
"Once they leave a two-track and drive along the beach, or a place where there's no road or trail, it's illegal," he said.
The parking lots were funded through grant funds from ORV licenses, set aside to restore damage like that on Partridge Point, Stevens said.
Stevens said it's possible users with disabilities might be cut off from using the land as they had before, and pointed out that other, better-developed boat launches can be found in the county.
Anyone with concerns about the project at the point can call Stevens at his office in Atlanta. He can be reached at 785-4251.
"Our number-one priority is to protect and manage a resource," he said. "Our number-two priority is to make the resource available for folks to use. Unfortunately, the first is a higher priority (than) to make it available to users."
Grant said he supports the DNR and its efforts to conserve state resources, but thinks a better solution could've been found for Partidge Point.
"You've got to be able to balance the ability of people to use it with the ability to protect it. It's not hunters that are out there damaging the property, and for us to pay for the mistakes of people who are openly violating the law is sad."
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.