By RICH ADAMS
Tribune EditorCHEBOYGAN -
Snowmobile enthusiasts and tourism officals are hailing the opening to snowmobiles of a key segment of the Cheboygan-to-Gaylord trail system.Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Rebecca Humphries on Thursday signed an amendment to a land use order that will allow snowmobiles on the so-called West Mullett Lake trail. Snowmobiles had been banned from the 12-mile stretch linking Indiand River and Cheboygan to the rest of the Northern Michigan trails since the land was first purchased by the Natural Resources Commission nearly 10 years ago.
The opening came after public hearings were conducted that pitted some landowners along the trail with snowmobilers. The landowners say they purchased and improved the land along the former railroad grade because the state had promised that the trails would be off limits to motorized traffic. Opponents say the noise and additional traffic on the trail will interrupt their tranquility and bring an end to snowshoeing and cross country skiing along the trail.But supporters of the trail being opened to snowmobiles say the move by the DNR fulfills a promise made to find an alternate route linking Cheboygan and points north to Topinabee, Indian River, Wolverine and Gaylord.“I'm very happy. This resolves two issues,” said Bob Ulrich of Cheboygan, who is a member of both the Cheboygan and Indian River snowmobile clubs. “One, the initial decisions were not made in the best interest of the general public. And two, it makes good the DNR's promise to connect Cheboygan to Gaylord with a snowmobile trail.”Ulrich has been writing state officials urging the trail to be opened since moving here in 2000.“I think the Department is trying to be very accommodating to everyone,” Ulrich said. “They put in two restrictions, one a 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, and tthe other closing the trail from midnight to 8 a.m.”
The limited hours were strongly opposed by most enthusiasts at a July public hearing in Indian River. Those against the limitations said snowmobilers unfamiliar with the area could be forced onto the ice of Mullett Lake and be in danger of going through the ice during the restricted times.“I talked with Larry Ames on the Sheriff's Department snowmobile patrol,” Ulrich said Sunday. “We talked about what would happen if someone broke down and had to be towed off at 2 a.m. He indicated there would be no ticket, but if they were just zooming through, that's a different story.”Fred Brandt Jr., owner of Brandt's Sports Center Inc. of Cheboygan and president of the Cheboygan Trailblazers snowmobile grooming club, said the trail's opening will demonstrate what good citizens snowmobilers can be.“I think the people in the area will find out snowmobilers are very good people to deal with,” he said.
“And it will help the community as far as bringing in more business for motels, restaurants and various other things. It was a very sensible decision to open the trail compared to spending $4 million to build trails on the other side.”Brandt said the Cheboygan grooming club will handle half the trail, while the Indian River club will groom the southern half. Since grooming has to be done after midnight, when the trails are empty, he hopes law enforcement and residents along the trail will understand.“We're not noisy. Our tractor is no different than the vehicles driving down 27,” he noted.Mike Grisdale, executive director of the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce, hailed the opening as the end of an effort to link Cheboygan with the rest of the snowmobile loops in the area.
“This will be good for Cheboygan and good for the whole region,” Grisdale said from home Sunday. “This is a great opportunity. We need every piece of the puzzle to come together that we can get in this area.”The benefits will go both ways.Paul Beachnau, an Otsego County Commissioner who also serves as executive director of the Gaylord Tourism Bureau, hailed the opening on Sunday morning.
“This is going to be a huge benefit for all of Northern Michigan,” Beachnau said. “It will really help all our local economies.”He said snowmobilers will flock to the new trail.“It just provides anover avenue,” Beachnau said. “People want to ride more miles. Snowmobilers are faster and can go more miles, and the ban has always been a limitation for people riding north. They are really looking for marked, groomed trails, and this trail will be a great mechanism for them.”
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