TRAVERSE CITY — A major snowmobile trail connecting Gaylord to westward northern Michigan trails will remain open, a shift of gears from state officials' prior closure announcement.
A single landowner along state Department of Natural Resources Snowmobile Trail #4 held out on a lease that would give snowmobilers permission to cross his land, and the DNR said Thursday the trail would close. But the landowner relented today, said Donald Klingler, the DNR official handling the issue.
That hurdle officially should be scaled by Monday, Klingler said.
The initial closure announcement caused concern among many, including businesses along the trail that rely on snowmobile traffic.
“It’s the main trail to get west from Gaylord,” said Chris Hayes, the owner of Alpine Snowmobile Rentals in Gaylord. “From Gaylord, most of the best snow is probably to the west through the Jordan Valley.”
Each year snowmobile clubs struggle to get permission to ride trails across private property.
“It seems to happen more and more lately because of transition of privately owned lands or dividing of public lands,” said Klingler, the forest fire officer supervisor at the Gaylord Forest Management Unit of the DNR . “We’ve been lucky, especially in this area, that these issues have come up but they’ve been on smaller, minor pieces of trail.”
Klingler said landowners are cleared of responsibility for any accidents on the trail, but sometimes they remain uneasy.
"In some cases we can put up fence or barricades or special signing to make the landowner feel a little more comfortable," Klingler said.
Hayes said about 75 percent of his rental clients take Snowmobile Trail #4 west, and the trail is the most reliable in marginal winters, when snow remains on the tree-covered trail longer than on the sunny north-south trail to Mackinaw City.
“We sent a lot of our rentals that way to Settings Restaurant (in Mancelona) or Starvation Lake (in Kalkaska),” Hayes said. “Those businesses are going to suffer if people from here can’t get there.”
The snowmobile trail provides a lifeline to Settings restaurant, which is off the main road in Kalkaska and is located on the turnaround points for both the Gaylord trail and the Kalkaska trail.
“We get the people coming from Gaylord going through our area out to Kalkaska, Manelcona, Wolverine; this is the corridor going through. Being on that corridor, it’s our survival,” said Joe Lauka, the manager at Settings restaurant. "It's important not only for me, but it really revitalizes the whole community."
Lauka said a couple thousand people snowmobile through the area on an average winter week.
“You need traffic to keep moving to survive,” Lauka said.