Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

January 6, 2013

Happy — and clear — trails

Volunteers maintain access for skiers, cyclists

TRAVERSE CITY — On snowy mornings, Glen Ruczynski especially appreciates a clever public-private partnership.

Cycling to work 10 miles from the Bunker Hill Road area in Acme to Copper Ridge on the west side of Traverse City takes about half the time, thanks to some helpers who clear the TART trail. Without them, Ruczynski would still ride his mountain bike with studded tires or bike with fat tires. But it would definitely be a struggle.

"It would be doable, but basically one-and-a-half hours of misery rather than a 50-minute commute," said Ruczynski, who bikes to his job two to three times a week. "It makes a tremendous difference."

Ruczynski also does his part as one of the seven trained members of the crew that uses a City of Traverse City tractor to clear the path from Carter Road in Leelanau County to Bunker Hill Road in Acme.

"Everyone's got a different work schedule so everyone's flexed around that," he said.

In a region packed with four-season outdoor enthusiasts, the commitment to year-round trail access extends to cross-country skiers, too. The VASA and Leelanau Trails are also groomed by volunteers so they're ready for skiers to use.

"Grooming the trails for classic and skate skiing provides a unique recreational opportunity for the region," said Julie Clark, executive director of TART Trails. "In particular, the VASA Pathway is one of the area's most beloved cross-country ski venues. TART groomers are well trained and more importantly, seriously passionate about the services they provide."

The combined efforts of so many volunteers keep a total of 62 miles of trails maintained for winter use, noted Lee Kurt, TART trail planning and program director. For years, TART Trails has drawn on its network of trained Trail Ambassadors for help with winter grooming tasks.

Individual efforts are also key — keeping pedestrian bridges clear, for example. Wally Delamater, Suttons Bay village manager, clears snow along the Leelanau Trail north of the 4th Street Trailhead and into the village. The trail goes past the school and boosts transportation and recreation options in Suttons Bay.

"It's amazing, the commitment," Clark said. "It really is a community effort."

Last year, TART Trails launched the Snow Removal Initiative for bicycle trail access using a rented tractor with a blower operated by a volunteer crew. The crew soon discovered that the equipment was not sturdy enough to handle mile after mile of their Carter Road-Bunker Hill stretch.

Brainstorming began this summer to find a better solution. The resulting agreement with Traverse City's Public Works Department allows screened and trained volunteers to use an older plow that otherwise would be idle. Thanks to the partnership, both commuters and recreational users can enjoy 20 miles of cleared trails.

"We're grateful to the city for their participation and willingness," said Clark. "They've been very creative."

Facing reduced staffing levels, city personnel were happy to work with TART on the trail-clearing plan. The city's policy after a snowfall put trails as a low priority, cleared after everything else on the list.

"Because our staffing levels had been reduced, we'd have a real hard time getting to the trails," said Bob Cole, director of public services for the City of Traverse City. "We're going to be trying it for the winter season and then we'll evaluate, both us and them."

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