The effects from a pair of severe late-November snowstorms are still being felt across much of northern Michigan as work crews continue efforts to clear and groom snowmobile and ski trails.
“The number of downed trees and limbs is astonishing,” said Rob Katona, central Upper Peninsula trails specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Recreation Division. “We haven’t seen conditions like this in recent history.”
Many trails remain open, but riders are urged to use extra caution, watching out for hazards obscured by snow, like logs, rocks or stumps, or trails left impassable.
The storms brought more than 2 feet of snow to some areas, blocking trails and weighing down tree limbs. In many places, young birches, oaks and other small-diameter trees have been bent over, arched across trails to the ground, where treetops are held in place, buried with snow.
“Heavy, deep snows have created a good base for snowmobile riding but with that has come fallen and blown-down trees,” said Jerry Fitzgibbon, DNR acting district law supervisor for the eastern Upper Peninsula. “Trail crews have been working to clear the trails, but many trails remain cluttered and not passable.”
Backroads, wetlands and lake surfaces also present hazardous challenges.
“For those who ride the seasonal roads, be ready for obstacles as many are not passable for the fallen and leaning trees,” Fitzgibbon said. “Inland lakes had little ice when the snow came and are now insulated by feet of snow, making ice formation poor and unpredictable. Low-lying areas remain wet and unfrozen.”
Even in areas where trails are passable, riders need to be careful.
“Although a trail section may be cleared and open, riders should still expect to encounter numerous low-hanging tree branches, along with rough trail conditions and some water holes,” Katona said.
Since soon after the storms hit, the DNR’s contracted snowmobile clubs have been clearing downed trees and grooming trails to try to ready them for riders.
In some of these places, usual means have been insufficient to meet the challenge.
“The clubs have been renting heavy equipment, such as dozers and excavators, to assist with the clearing, but even with that equipment some trail segments have been very difficult to clear,” Katona said.
In Marquette County – which has suffered significant trail problems – North Country Tree Care was hired to help remove trees in sloped places too difficult to clear of debris even with heavy equipment.
At the Blueberry Ridge Pathway, south of Marquette, DNR workers recently battled tough conditions there to clear the cross-country ski trails. A piston bully was used to push many fallen trees off trails, while workers used chainsaws and axes to remove the trees and boughs.
Groomers then improved the trails, which were groomed this week and are reported in good condition.
With cold weather forecast for next week, and continued efforts to clear and groom trails, DNR trails staffers think the snowmobile and ski trails may be ready for an anticipated influx of users during the holidays.
Meanwhile, recreational trail users should refer to local snowmobile and ski club, or tourism and recreation, websites for the latest trail conditions.
See a map showing some places in the central U.P. still needing significant snowmobile trail work.
For the greater Marquette County area, visit Travel Marquette’s trail conditions listings at travelmarquettemichigan.com/trail-conditions.
For more information on snowmobiling in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/Snowmobiling.