ALPENA - This is the third winter the City of Alpena has allowed snowmobilers a route through town that allows them access to local businesses. It is the first of the three winters, however, that provided enough snow for the riders to utilize the route and for city staff to examine its use and impact.
City Engineer Rich Sullenger said there was more than enough snow for most of the winter and there was an increase in use. He said there were very few complaints from residents about the snowmobile activity, and as a result he intends to recommend to Alpena Municipal Council that the route remain in place moving forward.
"This has been a priority for the council for some time and I think it was successful and we certainly haven't heard a public outcry about it," Sullenger said. "We haven't heard enough to where I believe we should discontinue it. We will seek insight from the Thunder Bay Sno-Drifters and together we can recommend modifications if we need to."
The snowmobile route does not run through most of the city, but a branch was added that allowed riders an opprotunity to ride their sleds to the snow-cross event at the fairgrounds this winter. Sullenger said there was no fallout of troubles associated to it.
He said the only concerns he had heard were regarding pedestrian traffic along the bi-path on Long Rapids Road. He said it is too narrow for both walkers and snowmobilers to pass side by side and as a result one has to move off of the sidewalk and into the snow. Sullenger said he knew it would be a small issue when the route was established.
"It is a trade-off. We are trying to accomplish multiple things with that part of the bi-path," Sullenger said. "We want it to be a snowmobile route in the winter and provide access for riders. We certainly don't want to keep people from walking on it, but it is one of the few routes we have available to the city. It is a difficult trade-off and there is no great answer one way or the other."
Sullenger said it is impossible to put a number on how many snowmobiles used the route, how many were from out of town and how local businesses were impacted. He said he knows it was well used because the engineering department has been monitoring the snowmobile tracks. He said when the trailhead is constructed, and as word spreads about the city's route, he thinks more riders will use the route moving forward - if there is a enough snow.
"I think there is a good chance we will see more in the years to come," Sullenger said. "I think as it becomes more well known and becomes more the norm, more people will continue to use it. The trailhead on Woodward (Avenue) will provide parking and will have restrooms. It will be a year-round facility, but it will allow riders a place to stop, stretch and then continue their journey."
Sullenger said he intends to provide council with a report at an April meeting.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com