Groomed fat bike winter trails growing more numerous in Michigan

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Winter beauty is found on groomed snow-bike trails like this loop at Merrell Trail in Rockford, MI. Photo: Kevin Allen.

 

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – When fat-tire bikes first made an appearance in Michigan a few years ago, many dedicated riders considered them a fad — a puffed-up version of a mountain bike with big, soft tires that enabled them to be ridden on beaches and by hard-core riders in snowy conditions. Few thought much would come of it.

But fat-tire bikes, also known as fat bikes, increasingly are being embraced by the cycling community, and groomed winter cycling trails have proliferated around the state to accommodate them. The trails are being developed by ski areas, municipalities and mountain biking and other groups.

Brent Walk, of Grand Rapids, has been a cycling race promoter for 28 years. His company, funpromotions.com, is on its third year of hosting winter fat bike races around the state.

“Participation is definitely growing,” Walk said. “We averaged 25 riders at each winter event the first year and 45 riders last year. This year we’re averaging 70 riders at each event. West Michigan is a hotbed, but there is a push in other parts of the state, too.” Continue reading

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Michigan DNR changes master angler program rules

Weights are no longer required when entering fish in Michigan's Master Angler program. Photo: Howard  Meyerson.

Weights are no longer required when entering fish in Michigan’s Master Angler program. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — No more looking for a certified scale in the middle of the night for that monster walleye. That’s the word from the Michigan DNR, which recently revised the rules for the state’s Master Angler program. The weight requirement has been eliminated for the program’s catch-and-keep category, along with other changes.

“It’s been coming for a while,” said Lynne Thoma, the DNR’s Master Angler program coordinator. “Anglers have been having a hard time finding a scale to weigh their fish, and grocery stores don’t want their scales contaminated. State-record fish will still require having both weight and length, but Master Angler entries won’t.”

Michigan’s Master Angler program was launched in 1973 as a way to recognize anglers who caught unusually large fish in Michigan waters. There were 19 eligible species, and 123 qualifying applications were received its first year. The list now includes 52 eligible species. It has become a popular source for anglers who scan it to identify Michigan waters that hold big fish.

Fish entered in the program’s catch-and-keep category have had to meet a weight requirement. Fish in the catch-and-release section, which was added in 1992, have had to meet a length requirement. Both categories will now require the same to enter. Continue reading

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ORV users work to improve access at Silver Lake State Park

State parks chief Ron Olson and Sen. Geoff Hansen (upper right) discuss the issues as ORV enthusiasts form groups and attempt to develop solutions. Photo; Howard Meyerson.

State parks chief Ron Olson and Sen. Geoff Hansen (upper right) discuss the issues as ORV enthusiasts form groups and attempt to develop solutions. Photo; Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

MEARS, MI – Ron Olson stood in front of a packed house, his tall, lanky frame towering over many who listened intently. More than 200 off-road and dune-buggy enthusiasts poured into Golden Township Hall on this frigid January night to talk about Silver Lake State Park. Nearly half had driven more than 100 miles.

With microphone in hand, Michigan’s state parks chief explained why they all were there. One key message: “All of you have a passion for getting out on that hill. … The common ground for everybody here is you care.”

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The entry line forming outside Silver Lake State Park can get to be 4-miles long. MLive file photo

Olson facilitated the meeting looking for solutions to the traffic backup that occurs on holidays and weekends. The park implemented a free voucher system in 2012, thinking it would solve the problem. About 120,000 to 130,000 vehicles use the ORV scramble area every year, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. The line at the gate can be four miles long.

“We can have hundreds of people backed up,” said Charlotte Kiefer, manager for Silver Lake State Park. “It’s a basic tailgating atmosphere, and it’s created problems for the county sheriff’s department. We’ve had complaints from both residents and businesses.”

The evening wasn’t a typical public meeting, full of vitriol and chaos. Olson wouldn’t have it. He asked attendees to form groups, to participate in a deliberated process to identify how to make the system work. He urged respect for one another, listening and giving everyone a chance to speak. Area legislators — state Rep. Jon Bumstead, and state Sen.Geoff Hansen — offered opening comments about working with the DNR to make sure they get it right. Continue reading

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Camping fees increasing at Michigan State Parks

The 16-foot-diameter yurt at Craig Lake State Park sleeps four people and is equipped with bunk beds, mattresses, a wood stove, axe, bow saw, and cooking and eating utensils. Running water and electricity are not provided, but an outhouse is located nearby. Photo Howard Meyerson.

The 16-foot-diameter yurt at Craig Lake State Park sleeps four people and is equipped with bunk beds, mattresses, a wood stove, axe, bow saw, and cooking and eating utensils. Running water and electricity are not provided, but an outhouse is located nearby. Photo Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

The camping season still is some months away — unless you’re a die-hard, that is, or plan to spend a week in the Everglades. But if you are thinking to camp in Michigan this spring, be aware that state park camping fees are going up.

State officials said the increase is needed to offset rising costs to operate and maintain the nearly 100-year-old state park system. The increases fall into three tiers: $4, $2 and $1 more per night, depending on the popularity of the park and how crowded it is in July during the prime camping season. As might be expected, the most popular sites go up the most.

Supply and demand

Camping at Silver Lake, Holland, Grand Haven and Petoskey state parks will go up $4 per night, to name a few. A full hookup site at Holland State Park now will cost $37 per night, while a 50-amp site is $33 per night, and a 20/30-amp site is $31 per night.
Moderately popular destinations, such as Sterling State Park in Monroe or Port Crescent in Port Austin, went up $2 per night. A full hookup at Port Crescent now is $31 per night from mid-April to mid-November, and $20 per night the rest of the year.

Lesser-used parks, such as Fisherman’s Island in Charlevoix, Pontiac Lake in Waterford and Craig Lake in the Upper Peninsula, went up $1 per night. Camping along Lake Michigan at Fisherman’s Island State Park remains a sweet deal at $13 per night.

Fees for rustic cabins, yurt and lodge rentals also increased by 8 percent a night. A night in a yurt at Craig Lake State Park went up $5 to $65. The entire list of state park fees can be found online here on the DNR website.  Continue reading

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Scientists: Invasive snail more prevalent than thought, poses grave danger to waterfowl

 

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By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Scientists studying the health of Great Lakes coastal wetlands report that faucet snails have been found in many more waters than anticipated. The invasive snail, native to Europe, poses a threat to native snails and to waterfowl.

“These snails are extremely competitive with native snails,” said Neil Schock, a wetland technician with the Institute for Great Lakes Research at Central Michigan University. “They outcompete and out-produce and they are hosts to three different intestinal flukes (parasites) that cause mortality in waterfowl.

“Here in Michigan we haven’t seen that (dead ducks) as much, but Minnesota has had die-offs and they have been seen in (other parts of) the Midwest. One I know of killed 4,000 to 9,000 waterfowl, a good portion of those were scaup.”

The parasites, called trematodes, caused massive waterfowl die-offs in Minnesota and Wisconsin waters that are part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that 22,000 to 26,000 birds have died from them on northern waters in the refuge dating back to 2006. The four-state refuge lies within the Mississippi Flyway where nearly 40 percent of the continent’s waterfowl migrate.

“The magnitude of the impact is yet to be seen, but I expect to see some impact,” said Donald Uzarski, director of the CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research.  “I anticipate we will see further and rapid spread of the snail. Continue reading

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New DNR deer specialist Chad Stewart ready to talk with state’s hunters

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan DNR's new deer specialist, Chad Stewart.

Michigan DNR’s new deer specialist, Chad Stewart.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – After eight years working for the state of Indiana as a deer research biologist, Chad Stewart is looking forward to working with Michigan deer hunters. The 36-year-old Pennsylvania native began his new duties with the Michigan DNR just as the 2014 firearm deer hunting season wound down.

“I had a couple of exciting weeks,” Stewart, the agency’s new deer specialist, said of the clamor from disgruntled hunters after the season during which many saw and killed fewer deer than in 2013.

“Hunters are hunters and they have certain expectations. When they are not met, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Indiana or Michigan,” Stewart said. “If people are upset, it’s something we need to be responsive to, and have open and honest discussions about what is happening.”

Stewart plans to do just that. A statewide deer symposium is among the ways he will reach out to hunters in 2015. He now works out of the DNR’s Rose Lake Field Office and takes over for long-time deer specialist Brent Rudolph, who will be working on social science and economic issues within the DNR’s wildlife division. Continue reading

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Take A Wintry Walk – On Top Of The Snow! Snowshoe Experiences and Trails in West Michigan

A group enjoys a guided snowshoe hike at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park where wooden snowshoes can be rented. Photo credit: Dave Kenyon, Michigan DNR

A group enjoys a guided snowshoe hike at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park where wooden snowshoes can be rented. Photo credit: Dave Kenyon, Michigan DNR

When the snow piles up and the winter woods grow quiet, there is no better time to get out on snowshoes. Designed to keep hikers from sinking deep, and let them walk at an easy pace, snowshoes can open up a winter landscape filled with natural wonder.

If you are interested in taking a naturalist-led winter hike, or just want to rent snowshoes and go out on the trails, you might enjoy my recent piece on the City of Grand Rapids Blog, called Experience GR. It lays out where you can rent and when guided hikes are offered,

“We’ve seen where animals bed down and a few weeks ago we saw a snowy owl,” says Elizabeth Brockwell-Tillman, interpreter at the Gillette Nature Center located at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon. The park is one of a few places near Grand Rapids where guided snowshoe hikes and/or snowshoe rentals are offered. Read More: Take A Wintry Walk.

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Michigan salmon catch limit remains five in 2015, but is that a good thing?

Captain Brian Butts, owner of Sea Flea Charters, helps Ashley Wiersma hold a big salmon she caught while fishing Lake Michigan in 2013. Far fewer that size were caught in 2014. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Captain Brian Butts, owner of Sea Flea Charters, helps Ashley Wiersma hold a big salmon she caught while fishing Lake Michigan in 2013. Far fewer that size were caught in 2014. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Anglers will be able to catch five salmon a day once the 2015 fishing season opens, but is that good news or bad? State fisheries officials say they are looking at new ways to determine what the daily limit should be.

A proposed change has been talked about for several months now. It was presented to anglers January 10 at the annual Ludington Fisheries Workshop, held by Michigan Sea Grant.

“We are working on getting acceptance for using a predator-prey model to determine daily limits,” said Todd Kalish, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Lake Michigan basin coordinator. “The predator-prey ratio, in my mind, is cutting-edge science.”

Science over social pressure

What that means is the annual decision to raise or lower the daily limit would be based on the volume of forage in the lake.

Until now, the decision relied on two other factors: charter angler success — what percentage of the trips result in three fish per outing; and the catch rate per angler. The new approach will be science-based rather than performance-based.

Why is it important? Chinook salmon feed mostly on alewives — and the number of alewives remains low.

U.S. Geological Survey staffers who conduct the annual lakewide forage surveys said the 2014 trawl results are not finished, but things don’t look good.

“Based on my ‘eyeballing’ of the trawl catches in 2014, I would expect the alewife lakewide biomass estimate to be low … in the same ballpark as the estimates for years 2004-2012 … maybe even a little bit lower,” said Chuck Madenjian, research biologist with the Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor and co-leader for the annual bottom-trawl effort on Lake Michigan. Continue reading

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Winter Survival Fire Lighting Skills – Why Don’t We Teach Them?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Lighting a fire in the winter woods can be a challenge, particularly in really deep snow. Can you do it? Is having a pocket BIC lighter enough? And should you? Some might say no.

Phil Werner, author of the Section Hiker Blog, raises a question about whether Leave No Trace advocates have stymied learning fire-building skills, particularly important in cold conditions. His discussion is followed by some interesting comments, one in particular by a LNT  Master Educator.

The video shown is not to be missed. It is excellent demonstration of simple methods to build a fire and contains some important pointers. If you’re thinking about winter camping, or even long-distance day touring, on snowshoes, skis, or by dog sled, this will be a valuable piece to check out. Stay warm.

Read More: Winter Survival Fire Lighting Skills – Why Don’t We Teach Them? 

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2015 Outdoor expo season anticipates bigger crowds, more displays

Boat manufacturer's are  planning to show new designs this year.

Boat manufacturer’s are planning to show new designs this year.

By Howard Meyerson

Winter weather may be unpredictable in Michigan, but outdoor enthusiasts can count on one thing: there is always a robust lineup of outdoor shows planned which can help to pass the winter months. Fourteen are scheduled between now and spring. Each is tailored to a specific audience, from campers and paddlers, to boaters, hunters and anglers.

Show producers say they expect a good turn-out this year. Consumer confidence has grown and manufacturers hope to catch that wave by showing their latest designs and products.

“I expect things will be up a bit,” said Ben Nielsen, manager for the Ultimate Fishing Show Detroit, the gateway event for the outdoor show season. It opens January 8 at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Continue reading

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