Todd Neiss, Recreation Specialist, Parks and Recreation Division of the Michigan DNR, responds to a recent complaint he received about fatbikes on the Vasa Trail System. Neiss sent a copy to the TART Fat Bike Advisory Committee who thought it would be add to the dicussion of fatbiking on ski trails. The name of the complainant has been redacted:
Dear Mr. X:
Thank you very much for your letter dated January 14, 2014, regarding the use of bicycles on the VASA pathway during the winter months. Your correspondence is very important to us as we move forward with managing our State forest pathway system. First, I would like to provide you with a broad view of the non-motorized trail system located on State forest lands. There are over 560 miles of designated non-motorized trails on State forest lands administered by the Forest Resources Division (FRO) of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These non-motorized trails (often referred to as pathways) intertwine through State forest lands that are managed for various uses, including but not limited to the promotion of a healthy, sustainable forest, improving wildlife habitat, responsible oil and gas production activities, and of course recreational opportunities.
State forest lands (including the VASA trail system) are regulated by State land rules. These land rules are general in nature, defining collective restrictions for the 19.3 million acres managed by Forest Resource Division. When specific issues or concerns occur, the DNR has a tool known as a Director's Order to address the issues. You correctly mentioned the dog restriction on the groomed VASA and Muncie Lakes cross country ski pathways. This Director's Order was completed many years ago, when the process was simpler to execute.
A Director's Order to prohibit bicycle use on the VASA during the winter months is a potential answer to the safety and trail condition topics that you mentioned. With that said, the process to obtain a Director's Order is extensive, as restricting any use is viewed differently by varying user groups. (This is where the passionate users typically gets involved.) Director's Orders go through a multitude of reviews, including evaluation by all divisions within the department, as well as the State Park Advisory Committee, Michigan Snowmobile Trails Advisory Council, the Natural Resource Commission, and finally the Director of the DNR for signature. The method to obtain a Director's Order is lengthy, and a critical part of the process is to gather information. Your letter is a good example of what is needed.
I appreciate your suggestion to have the fat bikes utilize the VASA single-track. This is a plausible solution, however, impacts to the single-track have to be taken into consideration. Fat bike riding typically requires a compacted snow surface, which would be provided by a snow machine, perhaps with a drag. Based upon user feedback, the attraction of the single-track during non-winter use is the tightness of the trial, coupled with sharp turns. The single-track would have to be modified to accommodate the width and turning radius of a snow machine and drag, which would result in a less enjoyable ride during non-winter use. We will explore this option further as we evaluate the best solution for the mixed use issue on the VASA trail system.
Mr. X, this is the first year where the Fat Bike/groomed cross country ski conflict has occurred. To address this situation, the DNR is working closely with our managing partner, Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) organization. We understand the issue but also want to make sure we take the time necessary to determine the best solution. The DNR, along with TART Trails, will monitor the situation; continue to accept input from users, review various management options, and provide a public meeting forum in late spring to promote participation in decisions. We are hopeful that this process will lead to an acceptable solution for those that enjoy this wonderful resource.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can provide additional information. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the Cadillac Office, 8015 Mackinaw Trail, Cadillac, Michigan 49601.
Todd Neiss, Recreation Specialist
Parks and Recreation Division
Phone: 231-775-9727, Ext. 6045