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Chairman Charters called the Committee of the Whole meeting of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to order at 3:08 p.m. on Thursday, February 5, 2004. The Committee of the Whole is a working session of the NRC.

Gaylord to Cheboygan Trail

Mindy Koch, Chief, Forest, Mineral and Fire Management Division, reported that the Gaylord to Cheboygan Trail Workgroup worked very hard and considered diverse opinions in developing recommendations for the trail. She introduced Jim Radabaugh, the recreation and trail manager for Forest, Mineral and Fire Management Division.

Karen Pung, Gray Fischer, and Dan Wells, were present from the Workgroup to present the recommendations as developed by the 17 member Workgroup. The entire trail stretches 48 miles from Gaylord to Cheboygan. The trail crosses many resource aspects and is considered a true asset to the State. The primary issue that the Workgroup addressed was the lack of authorization for snowmobile use near the Mullett Lake stretch. It was the charge of this Workgroup to develop a report on the status of the trail, address pending issues, and develop recommendations for implementation of recommended improvements. It was agreed that trail uses should not impact the surface of the trail.

The Workgroup developed a list of imperatives for the trail: brush, grade and mow the entire trail immediately; sign and manage the amenities; surface the entire trail with crushed stone; and pave the Mullett Lake stretch. The Workgroup recommended that a “friends” group could create a development plan for the entire trail and perform the year-around maintenance needed. Any snowmobile route alternatives should be permanent, safe and economically beneficial.

There are two pending issues needing resolution to make the trail a reality. Both can be resolved at the State level. The first is the crossing of the Little Sturgeon River between Onaway Road and M-68. There are extensive wetlands just east of I-75, but the Little Sturgeon River was diverted through a culvert to go under the highway. If the trail, for a short distance (less than 200 yards), could utilize the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) right-of-way to cross the River at this culvert, it would avoid the wetlands completely. A change in legislation, MDOT approval and an opaque fence to prevent snowmobile headlights from interfering with on-ramp automobile traffic would be required. Secondly, the trail is proposed to go through approximately 2.5 miles of land in the very northwest corner of the Pigeon River Country State Forest (PRCSF). This conflicts with a DNR policy/guideline that does not allow designated snowmobile trails in the PRCSF. It should be noted snowmobiles are allowed in the PRCSF, and snowmobiles currently use most of the proposed trail route as it goes along seasonal roads and horse trails. However, a designated snowmobile trail is not provided for in the current PRCSF plan.

The Gaylord to Cheboygan Workgroup has worked diligently to help the DNR find a solution to the controversial issues along Mullett Lake. The report outlines the proposed strategy to implement various goals in order to develop both the Gaylord to Cheboygan Rail-trail, and the Tuscarora Snowmobile trail, into world-class recreational facilities. With that, the Workgroup asks that the DNR fully endorse and support this proposal, and using its influence to quickly resolve the two pending issues at the State level in order to make the snowmobile trail a reality.

Ron DeCook, Governmental Affairs Director, Michigan Department of Transportation, stated he had discussed the I-75 right-of-way issue with Dennis Knapp and Jim Radabaugh. The MDOT has concerns with snowmobile trails running along an on-ramp; however, he looks forward to the opportunity to work with staff to develop a resolution to this issue and/or find alternatives.

Commissioners Parfet and Wheatlake support the concept of the proposal laid out by the Workgroup. Mr. DeCook reiterated that he has safety concerns and will work with the DNR on the issue.

Mindy Koch again stressed how hard the Workgroup worked to develop the report. There are barriers yet to be addressed, but the basic roadmap has been developed. Director Cool recommended that staff check with other states regarding their dealings with easements along state highways.
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