BY JIM DATSKO
The Vasa is Traverse City’s cherished ski trail. Starting in the 1980s George Lombard led the effort to create it. This took years of hard work beginning with convincing the state Department of Natural Resources that the forest was not just for hunters and timber but also for skiing. After building the trail skiers dug deep to buy a heated-cab groomer costing over $100,000. Ski trail management was turned over to Traverse Area Recreational Trails (TART), and our world-class Nordic reputation grew, adding to tourism all winter long.
Meantime, mountain bikers arranged for a separate Vasa Single Track (VST) trail constructed mostly in a different area of the woods. Some rode it year-round and kept it naturally tamped down during the snow season. They didn’t organize any grooming efforts.
Then fat tire bikes arrived in Traverse City. Unlike their mountain bike predecessors these riders lacked the gumption to pedal the VST in the snow and cast eyes on the groomed Nordic pathway. Feeling pressured by the DNR to admit anyone onto it TART this season promoted “Fat Bike Fridays” to limit the conflict between skiers and bikers to that day.
The clash between skiers and bikers bringing their two-wheel vehicles onto our quiet ski trail resulted in the winter of our discontent. Soon fat bikers moved beyond their Friday beachhead and rode our pathway on any given day resulting in sharp words occasionally being exchanged.
Building a Nordic Camelot didn’t happen in one, five, or even ten years; but ruining it can be accomplished in just a couple years. Managers of mature trail networks recognize the inherent conflict between hikers and bikers and separate their trails accordingly. The incompatibility of fat bike vehicles on our groomed ski trails is the same nature of conflict.