By Howard Meyerson
Michigan mushers eventually might get a long and safe trail system for running their dogs and for training in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. A Forest Service proposal to close about 3.5 miles of National Forest roads in winter to create a non-motorized winter recreation area for mushers, skiers and snowshoers is moving forward.
National Forest officials with the Baldwin/White Cloud Ranger District said a decision about the project is expected this winter. The public comment period closed Oct. 24, and a draft environmental assessment now is in circulation. It has a 30-day comment period, which is followed by a 45-day objection period. A link to the project can be found at bit.ly/sweettrail.
The road closures would occur in Sweetwater and Webber townships, where the popular 25-mile Sweetwater Challenge sled dog race has been run since 2006 under a special permit each time the race has been held. Mushers contend that a non-motorized winter recreation area there would allow them to run their dogs without worry during the winter.
The area has a mix of forest roads, county roads and trails that cross National Forest and private lands. It is a snowy region popular with mushers. Nearly 350 showed up in 2013 for one scheduled event. They arrived in the Manistee forest from as far away as Oregon, Vermont, Georgia and Minnesota, according to National Forest officials.
“(If approved), we expect it to go into effect this winter,” said Kathy Bietau, the National Forest District’s recreation planner. We’re looking to provide a safe environment for permitted sled dog events and for skiers and snowshoers. We’re proposing to close the roads to motor vehicles (every winter) from Dec. 1 through March 31.” Continue reading