Can’t get there from here: Announced closure of Trail No. 2 stymies sledders in the western U.P.

What’s happening: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources wants to let sledders — and the small businesses that depend on their business — know that the DNR and community stakeholders continue to seek a solution to the announced closure of an important stretch of snowmobile trail in the western Upper Peninsula. An interrupted Trail No. 2 puts the region’s winter tourism industry in a bind as alternative routes are hard to come by.

Backstory: Following their acquisition of Big Snow Resorts in late August, Midwest Family Ski Resorts announced that the Wakefield ski resort would be rebranded as Snow River Mountain Resort. According to the DNR, a Sept. 13 email then announced that the resort would no longer allow snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles access to the trail on resort property, with news reports at the time reporting that the parent company closed access to the trail because of safety concerns. The trail was managed by the Michigan DNR and the Gogebic Range Trail Authority and provides a critical connection between Wakefield and Ironwood.

Why it’s important: Winter tourism is big business in Michigan. According to a report from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) released in November 2021, winter tourism generated $3.6 billion in traveler spending in the year 2020 alone. The small businesses of Bessemer, Ironwood, and Wakefield stand to lose out on some of those tourism dollars should the connecting snowmobile trail fail to re-open and, according to the DNR, alternative routes are few and far between. The Black River, Plymouth Pit, private land holdings, and high-traffic paved roadways all stand in the way of viable re-routes.

What they’re saying: “We understand that property owners have the right to revoke access to their land,” Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator, says in a statement. “Nearly 50 percent of our snowmobile trails are on private land, however, this particular closure puts snowmobiling opportunities and connectivity in the western U.P. in a tough spot.”