ALPENA - A local trails association finally has permission from the state to make improvements at a pathway south of town.
Thunder Bay Trails Association now has a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality to fix several areas in Norway Ridge Pathway, association President Hal Butler said. The group met with Eric Ostrander, Department of Natural Resources parks supervisor for Harrisville, Negwegon and Rockport state parks, Wednesday to discuss what the permit allows. He'll meet with the group again in the future to discuss which repairs will take priority and how to fund them.
The group has been pursuing a DEQ permit since March 2012, Ostrander said. He later added he suspects the delay had to do with a transfer in management from one DNR division to another. In 2012, the Parks and Recreation Division began overseeing campgrounds and designated trails in state forests, taking over from the Forest Resources Division which still owns the land.
"In my opinion, this thing took a lot longer than it usually does because of the whole transition," he said.
The 40-plus page permit reads like a project plan, telling the DNR and the association which repairs can be made and where, Ostrander said. It even goes into specifics, like which size culvert to use when replacing an old one, and whether to install culverts or boardwalks.
Thunder Bay Trails pursued the permit because the trails are being washed out in several areas, Butler said. Culverts in some places have failed, making it hard for the association to groom ski trails in the winter.
"Some of the easiest fixes are the culverts, but we can't dig at all or replace the culverts unless (the DEQ) OK it," he said.
Much of the land at Norway Ridge, located south of Alpena on Werth Road, is wetlands, and the DEQ has a say in any construction happening there, Ostrander said.
Now that the permit is in, association members and the DNR need to find ways to fund it. Ostrander told association members about a program where the DNR grants money to nonprofits working on state parks or trails.
If the group's application for the funds are successful, its funds for a project would be matched by the DNR through a few different scenarios. One involves the nonprofit giving the money to the department, which then completes the project on its own. Another would involve the department donating the materials with the group completing the project, and a third involves the nonprofit and DNR undertaking their own separate portions of the project.
The state can fund this Partnership Grant Program thanks in part to the Recreation Passport, Ostrander said. The Parks Trust Fund provides money for the program as well. However, there is an application process involved.
"It is like a grant program, there is a review process, so it's not a guaranteed pot of money," he said.
There's another hurdle: Ostrander still needs permission from the DNR to make the fixes, he said. The Forest Resources Division will weigh in, as will department planners and the Stewardship Division, an office that ensures the fixes won't impact area wildlife or other resources.
The permit is good for five years and expires Sept. 20, 2018, Ostrander said. This means there's time for him to meet with the group and decide which repairs take priority and when they can be made. There's also a chance for trail users to have a say through TBTA members.
"Any user group like yours, when we have a plan you can say, 'Well, our users have told us this should be our priority,'" he said.
Association member Ron Anderson said he'd like to get started next spring, and wants to meet with Butler, Ostrander and others to get planning under way. He later expressed his gratitude to the DNR for obtaining the permit, and said he'd like to work with the department on designating a single-track mountain bike path at Chippewa Hills Pathway in Ossineke Township.
Visit TBTA's website for more information on the association and the trails it supports: www.thunderbaytrails.org