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Discussion Starter #1
Chocolay snowmobile dispute
Court approves trail

Journal Staff Writers

MARQUETTE — After a Michigan Appeals Court ruling released Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will be allowed to open a snowmobile trail through a residential section of Chocolay Township this winter.

But the next question is exactly how snowmobile use will be regulated along the roughly 8-mile section of railroad grade, which passes dozens of homes.

“We’ll try working with the township to try to mitigate some of the negativity and minimize impacts as much as we can,” said Debbie Begalle, western Upper Peninsula district supervisor for the DNR’s Forest, Mineral and Fire Management Division in Marquette.

In reversing a decision made in January by Marquette County Circuit Judge Thomas L. Solka, state Appeals Court judges Patrick Meter, Henry Saad and Bill Schuette ruled that the DNR is not subject to Chocolay Township zoning rules prohibiting snowmobiles on certain state land.

“The Legislature, through the provisions set forth in the snowmobiles act, intended that the designation of land for snowmobile operation on state-owned or state-controlled lands should not be preempted by restrictions of a local unit of government, including township zoning ordinances,” the appellate court decision read. “Therefore, the DNR has unrestricted authority to establish a snowmobile trail through the residential district of Chocolay Township. The trial court erred in granting a preliminary injunction to (the) plaintiff (Chocolay Township).”

Township Treasurer John Greenberg said he is disappointed with the ruling. The township board will discuss the ruling with the township attorney, Michael Summers.

“What we’re trying to establish with him is what our options are,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said he’s not sure if the board will meet on the issue early, or wait until the next regular meeting Nov. 17.

Even if the township cannot stop the trail from coming through, Greenberg said it may be able to regulate traffic on it.

“I think speed limits and curfews would solve a big part of the problem with having snowmobiles in a residential area,” he said.

State law allows ordinances to be passed including speed limits or curfews, to regulate snowmobiles to try to alleviate problems of noise, speed and trespass experienced by local residents.

Some restrictions are already in place as part of state snowmobile laws. The DNR would follow a process outlined in those statutes for working with the township to review and establish any regulations. The state would seek a special departmental director’s order for new rules specifically set for that trail.

But exactly how that process will work or how any potential regulations will be enforced is currently being evaluated. The DNR patrols state trail systems, but has limited resources.

The township does not have the resources to enforce regulations either, Greenberg said.

“The township doesn’t, and I don’t think the DNR or the state would help with that.”

The DNR says the ruling opens the way to connect the Chocolay Township segment to 18 additional miles of former Wisconsin Railroad grade the state owns, extending east into Alger County.

The 26-mile stretch will allow riders to reach trails in the west and east, via a route safer than riding along state highways.

“We’re very pleased with the decision,” Begalle said. “This is important to connect the trails east and west.”

The DNR intends to open the trail this winter.

Pat Black, director of the Marquette Country Convention and Visitors Bureau and a supporter of the trail, said she was pleased it can open this year.

“I think it’s going to have a huge impact on this winter’s economy,” she said. “The only thing that can hurt us is no snow.”
Having a trail for snowmobilers will be safer than last year, Black said.

“Last winter was so dangerous on M-28 with the snowmobilers being forced to ride on both sides of the highway,” she said. “They belong on a trail.”

Black said news of the trail ruling is already on the bureau’s Web site.

“It will take no time at all for that word to get around,” she said. “People have been really interested in this.”

Black said she would support a speed limit and curfews on the section of trail through the residential area, and hopes the township and the DNR discuss that.

Summers said that if the township decides to continue fighting the trail in court, it would have to file an application to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. An appeals hearing is not automatically granted.

“They don’t take every case,” Summers said. “It’s a political, legal decision of the (township) board whether it wants me to file an application of leave.”

79 Posts
The 26-mile stretch will allow riders to reach trails in the west and east, via a route safer than riding along state highways.
Its about time, any of you guys that have ridden in the area will attest to this statement!


691 Posts
Thats for sure !! We hit that snag in January when we were up there on a week long 'casino trip on sleds' as we called it.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
DNR opts out of Chocolay trail meeting

By JOHN PEPIN, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials have canceled their scheduled appearance at a Chocolay Township Board meeting Monday, where they were expected to discuss snowmobiling on a controversial railroad grade trail.

“The DNR will not be at the meeting Monday,” Debbie Begalle, western Upper Peninsula district supervisor for the DNR’s Forest, Mineral and Fire Management Division in Marquette said today. “We’ll either attend another board meeting or try to hold something else in the near future.”

U.P. field coordinator Mike Paluda planned on heading the DNR’s contingent attending the meeting Monday, but he was called out of town on a family emergency for at least a week.

Without Paluda, the DNR decided to cancel its appearance and will use the extra time to gather more facts about how the snowmobile trail, which runs through eight miles of residential homes, will be operated this winter.

Chocolay Township officials said the scheduled meeting, which is the township’s regular board meeting, will still take place at 7 p.m. Monday at the gymnasium of the former Silver Creek Elementary School.

Prior to the DNR canceling, Chocolay Township Supervisor Greg Seppanen said he was glad the DNR was coming to the meeting to be able to answer questions for affected residents who live along the former Wisconsin Central railroad grade.

Last January, Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka granted an injunction barring the DNR from any further development of the trail without township zoning approvals.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that decision in October. The DNR will use the trail as an east-west connector to other trails this winter.

Seppanen said he will recommend to the board at Monday’s meeting that the township seek a Michigan Supreme Court ruling on the appellate court’s trail decision.

“I talked to our township attorney and he feels that from our win at the local level, that we have a strong case,” Seppanen said.

The township board will discuss, and likely make a decision on, the idea at the meeting Monday.

Seppanen said that if the board does decide to petition the Supreme Court for a ruling, and the court agrees to hear the case, that ruling would not likely occur for several months.

In the meantime, the township wants to hear what the DNR has in mind for enforcement of trail problems and provisions to reduce noise, trespass and other problems for residents while the trail is in operation this winter.

Meanwhile, the DNR has not begun its work on signing the trail and it is unclear which local group will be grooming the trail this winter, Begale said.

But officials hope to have the details worked out soon.
“Our plan is Dec. 1 the signs will be up and posted and we’ll have a contract in place for grooming,” Begale said.

No new meeting has been scheduled with the DNR, the township and the public. However, DNR officials were expected to meet with Seppanen this afternoon to discuss more thoroughly the DNR’s plans not to attend Monday’s meeting.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Chocolay to continue to fight trail

By BUD SARGENT, Senior Staff Writer

HARVEY — The Chocolay Township Board voted Monday to continue legal action in an attempt to keep snowmobilers from using an abandoned railroad grade that runs near residences.

By a 6-1 vote, the township board directed their attorney to ask the State Court of Appeals to hear a motion relating to a controversial late-October appellate decision that paved the way for use of the old railroad grade as a snowmobile trail.

Voting in favor of the motion were Supervisor Gregory Seppanen, Clerk Arlene Hill, Treasurer John Greenberg and trustees Lois Sherbinow, Kendall Tabor and John Trudeau.

Casting the lone vote against the motion was trustee Donald Britton.

The appeals court on Oct. 28 overturned a January Marquette County Circuit Court ruling approving an injunction barring the state from developing the abandoned Wisconsin Central Railroad grade — from about Kawbawgam Road west to the Michigan Department of Transportation Welcome Center — into a snowmobile trail.

Overall, the stretch of grade is about eight miles long and passes near the homes of dozens of residents, many of whom consider passing snowmobiles to be dirty, noisy and bothersome. The township considers the use of the grade as a trail to be a violation of their zoning ordinances.

Should the appeals court decline to rehear the case, which township attorney Michael Summers thought likely, the motion approved Monday allows him to ask the Michigan Supreme Court hear the case.

“Going forward is the right thing to do,” said township Supervisor Gregory Seppanen.

Britton disagreed.

“It’s time we tried to work with the DNR and get something done,” he said. “I don’t believe we will win any appeals.”

Michigan Department of Natural Resources personnel, who had initially said they would attend Monday’s session, did not appear.

The vote Monday came after about two hours of often emotional commentary from residents on both sides of the issue.

“We want clean, quiet and safe neighborhoods,” said Ralph Bennett, who lives at 205 Riverland Drive. “I would encourage the board to go forward with it.”

But David Thomas, who lives at 311 W. Main St., said he believes the township and residents must find a way to accommodate the presence of snowmobilers.

“We must find a way to work it out or we can’t start the healing process,” he said.

To date, Chocolay Township has spent about $15,000 on legal fees. Summers said continuing the legal battle would cost about another $6,000.

“I am appalled that we have spend that kind of money on this,” Thomas said. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”

While the legal wrangling continues, DNR officials have said they will use the extra time to gather more facts about how the snowmobile trail will be operated this winter.

The DNR has not begun work to signing the trail and it is unclear which local group will groom the trail this winter.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Township to continue limits on snowmobiles

HARVEY -- The Chocolay Township board has voted to continue legal efforts to keep snowmobilers from using an abandoned railroad grade that runs near homes. The board voted to direct its attorney to request the state Court of Appeals to hear a motion about an October court decisions that paved the way for the use of the grade as a snowmobile trail. The October decision overturned an earlier ruling by the Marquette County Circuit Court that upheld an injunction barring the state from developing the abandoned eight-mile stretch of the Wisconsin Central Railroad grade for snowmobiling.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Snowmobiles targeted in Chocolay; Trail lawsuit filed


MARQUETTE - A group of about 75 Chocolay Township residents has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to shut down or strictly regulate 4¢ miles of a snowmobile trail that runs through a residential area of the township.

The suit was filed in 25th Circuit Court in Marquette on Friday by attorney Evan Dixon of Hancock, according to court documents at the Marquette County Clerk's office.
The plaintiffs, which the suit states are all residents of the township, are asking the court to "permanently enjoin" the DNR from maintaining the trail adjacent to their property.

"The DNR did not follow state policies in establishing and maintaining this trail," said plaintiff Joe Holman, an unofficial spokesman for the group who lives on Riverside Drive across the street from the trail.

The DNR had little to say about the lawsuit this morning.

"The DNR has not been served with the lawsuit as of this date," said Ann Wilson, spokeswoman at the DNR office in Marquette. "We have no comment until we can review the document."

Many nearby residents have opposed the trail since it was proposed for a former railroad grade and then opened in 2002. In the most densely populated areas along the trail, houses range from 37 to 200 feet from the middle of the trail.

The DNR held a public hearing about the trail in November to solicit opinions about controlling speeds along the trail, but no decision has been made by DNR director Rebecca Humphries for any controls other than what the law mandates for any snowmobile trail in the state.

The suit states the trail is a nuisance because of excessive noise, vibration, noxious fumes and inherent danger posed both day and night by snowmobiles, some that have been clocked at more than 90 mph by the Chocolay Township Police Department.

The Chocolay Township board plans to hold a public hearing on Jan. 19 on a proposed ordinance to limit speeds along the part of the trail that comes within 100 feet of a dwelling to no "greater than the minimum required to maintain forward movement of the snowmobile" between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. daily.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
January 13, 2006

CONTACT: Mary Dettloff 517-335-3014

DNR Director Approves Order to Limit Speed On Portion of Munising to Marquette Trail

Department of Natural Resources Director Rebecca Humphries has signed a land use order to limit the speed on a portion of the Munising to Marquette snowmobile trail that runs through Chocolay Township in Marquette County.

The action, which took place at yesterday's Natural Resources Commission meeting, follows concerns voiced by local citizens along a heavily populated 4.5 mile portion of the trail. Along that portion of the trail, there are 111 residences that are located from 37 to 200 feet from the centerline of the trail, Humphries said. The order limits the speed for snowmobiles on that section of the trail to 35 miles per hour.

"This is a common sense move to provide additional safety to the residents who live along the trail and the snowmobile enthusiasts who use it to travel from Munising to Marquette," Humphries said. "Many residents expressed concerns of pedestrian safety to us during a recent public meeting on this issue and we wanted to respond based on these concerns and an investigation by our staff in the area."

Residents also expressed concerns about sleep disruption, exhaust smell and noise at a recent public hearing.

For more information about Michigan snowmobile trails, visit the DNR Web site at www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on Snowmobiling under the Recreation & Camping section.

The DNR is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural resources for current and future generations.

1,054 Posts
I've lived within 50 feet of heavily used trails for years before I moved in this house.

They can be noisy at times, but you honestly get used to them.

"Noxious fumes" from the smell of exhaust.... :rolleyes: please.....

What a crock. I bet these same people drive cars.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #10
Snowmobile trail regulated Slowing sleds


MARQUETTE - Chocolay Township officials and residents who live near a controversial snowmobile trail are cheering a decision by the state government to limit how fast sledders can legally go along the route. Speeds in the 4 1/2-mile stretch from the Michigan Welcome Center to just east of Chocolay Downs Golf Course are now limited to 35 mph after Department of Natural Resources Director Rebecca Humphries signed a land-use order Thursday, according to a DNR news release.

Humphries signed off on the speed limit after the DNR's rule-setting body, the Natural Resources Commission, approved a recommendation made by staff from the Marquette and Gwinn offices at the NRC's monthly meeting held Thursday.

Crews contracted by the state Department of Transportation erected about three dozen signs along and leading up to the trail Friday morning, according to Ron Yesney, the western Upper Peninsula recreation management specialist who is based at the DNR's Marquette office.

"It goes into effect when the signs go up," Yesney said Friday. "The speed limit will be 35 mph for the whole stretch."

Speed-limit signs were to be placed in both directions along the former railroad line about every half-mile in the 4 1/2-mile stretch, along with main access points to the trail, such as on Green Bay Street near where it intersects at the western end of Lakewood Lane.

In addition, two signs at each end of the speed zone warn snowmobilers of the upcoming 35 mph limit.

"Just like on a road, the 35 mph isn't some requirement that snowmobilers reach," Yesney said. "It's meant to be the limit in that area under ideal conditions.

"If conditions are bad, for instance if it's at night, or near residences, or a lot of people are out, or it's windy for example, sledders should be going slower."

He added that he understood the order doesn't change existing statewide rules that limit speed even further between midnight and 6 a.m. on portions of state trails within 100 feet of a dwelling.

Under those circumstances, speed is limited to no "greater than the minimum required to maintain forward movement of the snowmobile," according to the Michigan Snowmobile Regulations brochure prepared by the DNR.

That part of the order is important to Chocolay Township Supervisor Greg Seppanen, who is cautiously applauding the DNR's ruling.

"I'm waiting to see the exact language of the order," Seppanen said Friday afternoon. "If it's what we were anticipating and hoping for, then I give the DNR credit for taking the responsible position.

"Everybody said this was a no-brainer. This should've happened two years ago, but the (snowmobiling) industry is pretty powerful, and the DNR had to work through all the issues surrounding this."

Seppanen also said the DNR's decision won't reduce the importance of a public hearing being held by the township board on Thursday. A proposed ordinance would expand the hours for nighttime restrictions, adding two hours at each end of the state rules so the "slowest possible speed" rule would run from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

"It's still important for snowmobilers and residents to attend," he said about the meeting that starts at 7 p.m. at the Chocolay Township offices on U.S. 41 in Harvey.

Yesney said the speed limit on a DNR-controlled trail is only the second of its kind in the state. The first was established in the city of Hancock for a trail that runs on another railroad grade that heads north of out town toward Calumet.

"The DNR recently came out with a process for setting speed limits that includes a specific set of criteria," he said, adding that the process and its criteria could change over time as the DNR works on similar cases.

"It's pretty significant to have this speed limit, since it will be the first speed limit in the state in a residential area that will be enforced," Seppanen said.

The unofficial spokesman for a group of about 75 Chocolay residents who files a lawsuit on Jan. 6 to shut down the trail also cheered the DNR's decision.

"This is a resounding victory," said Joe Holman, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lives across Riverside Drive from the trail. "It's one of the few times a bureaucracy has listened to the needs of the people.

"One of the issues now will be whether the DNR gives the township the funding to enforce this new rule."

He added, however, that Thursday's ruling isn't the end of dispute, and that the residents' suit will not be withdrawn because of it.

18,038 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
Chocolay board: Wait and see on sled speed


MARQUETTE - With a large crowd present, the Chocolay Township Board decided to play the waiting game at its public hearing to discuss an ordinance to lengthen "quiet hours" for a snowmobile trail passing through a residential area in Chocolay Township. "The action taken by the board was to do nothing, so it's kind of held in this limbo position," said Chocolay Township Supervisor Greg Seppanen regarding the ordinance. "The circumstances in regard to the issue have changed significantly in terms of the speed limit."
Seppanen said that when the board started the process for the ordinance, there was no speed limit on the trail. Just last week, the Department of Natural Resources established a 35-mph speed limit.

"We wanted to give the speed limit a chance to see how that impacted the issue and we hope that will take care of a lot of the problems that a lot of the residents have seen on the trail," Seppanen said.

The ordinance would have addressed snowmobile speed rules, adding two hours at each end to the state-mandated time when snowmobile speeds are limited to no "greater than the minimum required to maintain forward movement of the snowmobile" when they are within 100 feet of a dwelling. It would affect a 4 1/2-mile stretch of trail from the Michigan Welcome Center to just east of Chocolay Downs Golf Course.

State law as listed in the Department of Natural Resources' Michigan Snowmobile Regulations brochure calls for this minimum speed from midnight to 6 a.m. while Chocolay's plan would have extended it from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., according to Seppanen.

Seppanen said the board was going to make sure that the new speed limit was well-publicized and strictly enforced.

"I think it was a wise decision, said Scott Hubbard, owner of Scooter Motor Sports, "I'm glad that they didn't pursue it. The ordinance is redundant with what's already on the books for the state and for the county. Extending the hours cannot be enforced on a snowmobile trail that is run and managed by the DNR on DNR lands."

The decision didn't thrill Joe Holman, who lives on Riverside Road opposite the trail.

"I would have preferred them taking a principled stand for the residents but if we can achieve a business route, this is all for good," said Holman.

Holman, who has been talking to State Reps. Stephen Adamini, D-Marquette, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said a possible ungroomed business route would bypass residential areas and follow a bike path along M-28 and then follow US-41 to the welcome center. But Holman didn't know when or if such a business route might be implemented.

Holman said that speed is still a problem - despite the posted speed limit - when police aren't present to enforce it.

"(Snowmobilers have) slowed down to 60 (mph), if the police aren't there they still go 60," he said.

Hubbard said that the snowmobile industry has gotten a negative image in the Marquette area.

"All the major communities of the U.P., except for the Marquette area, embrace snowmobilers. I've never understood why. There could be a lot more business here due to snowmobilers, and it can be controlled and it can be policed properly," he said.

Meanwhile, Holman and other homeowners have filed a lawsuit against the DNR in circuit court before Judge John Weber.

"We plan on going through with it because the DNR circumvented state law to exclude we the people from having a voice in what happens in our own area," he said.

Holman said the speed limit signs were not enough enforcement action on the part of the DNR.

"They threw us a bone with the speed limit. It's a good bone, but it's still just a bone," he said.

DNR officials in Lansing said they were not prepared to comment on the lawsuit at this time.

5,478 Posts
I just avoid that section of trail. You can get to the trails west and north of Marquette by going through Chatham, Little Lake and Gwinn. Much nicer trails and the people love you!! Sure it is the long way around, but it is a great ride, and remember it is the ride not the destination. :)

Who wants to ride through Marquette on a Snowmobile!
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