Roads Less Traveled: National Forest Seeks user input about preferred two-tracks, trails

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Huron-Manistee National Forest resources staff officer, Chris Frederick (left) and trail coordinator, Dave Jaunese (right) examine a user-created two-track in Muskegon County being closed off with barricades. Photo Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Maybe you’ve heard the scuttlebutt about the U.S. Forest Service closing more roads in Huron-Manistee National Forest. The message, which got posted on social media by off-road vehicle enthusiasts, urgently suggests that those who care should write the forest and oppose any road closures.

Ken Arbogast, the national forest’s public affairs officer, says that has happened, but the first part isn’t quite true. No roads are being proposed for closure. At least not right now. Forest staffers are inventorying roads and assessing the need for each. What’s needed, according Arbogast, is feedback from users about the roads and two-tracks they would like to see kept open. The February 15 comment deadline has been extended until March 15 to allow for that.

“There’s been a lot of misinterpretation showing up on blogs,” Arbogast said. “We know we may eventually have to close some roads, but this isn’t a decision (to do so). We’re doing an analysis of all the roads, from two tracks that are already closed up to paved roads. Our fire staff is looking at roads to see if they are necessary for fighting fires. Are there some that are a vector for introducing invasive species? We also are looking to see what roads we don’t want on the system.

“We’ll gather information and get answers from our specialists, the archeologist, biologist, recreation manager, and then make decisions. We need to know what roads we can afford to maintain – a minimum transportation system. That’s what this study is.” Continue reading

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Quiet Water Symposium celebrates 20 years

Skin over wood frame kayaks are just some of the designs kayak builders will have on display. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Skin over wood frame kayaks are just some of the designs kayak builders will have on display. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Most of the major winter outdoor shows highlight boating, hunting and fishing, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Michigan, after all, boasts nearly a million registered boats and roughly 1.6 million anglers and hunters.

State officials estimate Michigan residents own about 300,000 unregistered canoes and kayaks, but when it comes to Michigan paddlesport shows, there is only one – The Quiet Water SymposiumThat delightful event is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Worth the trip

If you haven’t heard of it, be sure to check it out. It’s scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., March 7, at the Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture Education, 4301 Farm Lane, in East Lansing on the Michigan State University campus. Its organizers expect its largest crowd yet.

“We had 2,500 in attendance last year and expect from 2,500 to 3,000 this year,” said Allen Deming, a former symposium chairman and one of the many dedicated volunteers that put it on. The symposium is now sponsored by the Quiet Water Society, a small non-profit with no paid staff that formed to shepherd the event forward and through tough times.

“People can see 30 canoe and kayak models from commercial vendors, and we’ll have about 10 home builders displaying their work,” Deming said. “About 60 percent of the show is dedicated to non-profit organizations like watershed councils and nature centers and water trail organizations.

“We have people who drive up from Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ontario.”

That’s a far cry from the symposium’s earliest days when it was held at the Kellogg Center on MSU’s campus. I remember those early events. They were considerably smaller, but no less genuine. The organizers wanted to show off great canoes and kayaks, the works of boat builders, and the great trips paddlers were taking. Today, the symposium celebrates all of that and non-motorized recreation, the value of clean waterways, and shared concern for the Great Lakes. Continue reading

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Graymont revises mining proposal; DNR decision postponed

An aerial shot of Graymont's Pilot Peak project in Nevada. Photo: Graymont

An aerial shot of Graymont’s Pilot Peak project in Nevada. Photo: Graymont

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A newly updated proposal from Graymont Inc., the Canadian mining company seeking to buy state land for a limestone mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was submitted to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources late last month. State officials say it currently under review and a final decision has been postponed.

“Because we got a late revision, we need time to digest the changes they made,” said Bill O’Neill, Michigan’s state forester and chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “The customers and interested public also need time. This will give everyone a chance to understand the change.”

DNR director, Keith Creagh, was to decide the fate of the proposed land purchase at the February 12 Natural Resources Commission meeting in Lansing. That decision was pushed back until March at the earliest. Creagh, however, approved a second Graymont proposal for a 1,717.6- acre exchange of mineral rights. The company proposed swapping mineral rights it owns under state land for minerals the state owns under U.S. Forest Service land. State officials say the exchange was desirable.

“The mineral exchange unifies surface and mineral rights for the state, which meets one of our public land and mineral management goals,” said Ed Golder, public information officer for the DNR.  “The exchange does not guarantee that mining will take place. Graymont will have to work through the Forest Service if it plans to undertake mining on those minerals.” Continue reading

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Black Lake sturgeon season ends in six hours

Doug Blaskowski, of Brutus, holds a 50-inch, 31-pound female sturgeon he speared during the recent Black Lake sturgeon season. Photos courtesy of Brenda Archambo

Doug Blaskowski, of Brutus, holds a 50-inch, 31-pound female sturgeon he speared during the recent Black Lake sturgeon season. Photos courtesy of Brenda Archambo

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — More than 300 anglers hoped to spear a sturgeon through the ice when Michigan’s Black Lake sturgeon-spearing season opened Feb. 7. But the five-day season lasted only five and a half hours. Four Michigan anglers, and one from Wisconsin, successfully filled the season’s five-sturgeon quota by 2:12 p.m. on opening day.

“The first fish was taken at 9 a.m.,” said Tim Cwalinski, a senior fish biologist from the Michigan DNR’s Gaylord office. “It was a 67-inch, 75-pound female. The guy from Wisconsin got the biggest. It was 71 inches and 87 pounds.”

The successful spear fishermen were:

  • Tom Madison, from Onaway, who speared the first sturgeon of the day;
  • Jason Crawford, of Indian River, who checked in at 9:51 a.m. with a 58.5-inch, 45-pound male;
  • Todd Zeller, of Cheboygan, who checked in at 1:13 p.m. with a 69-inch, 80-pound female;
  • James Bodinger, from Wisconsin, who checked in at 1:18 p.m. with the largest sturgeon; and
  • Doug Blaskowski, of Brutus, who checked in at 2:12 p.m. with a 50-inch, 31-pound female.

Black Lake is well-known for its sturgeon population. Located in Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties, the 10,130-acre water body contains just over 1,000 adult sturgeons, according to Cwalinski. His agency and the nonprofit Sturgeon for Tomorrow annually stock it with more than 3,000 young sturgeon that are reared at the nearby Black River sturgeon hatchery. Continue reading

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Fee increase proposed at Sleeping Bear Dunes and other U.S. national parks

IMGP1590 Mt. Rainier National Park

Fees are proposed to go up at Mt. Rainier National Park. Photo: Howard Meyerson


By Howard Meyerson

If you are planning a trip to a national park this summer, you might want to check and see what it will cost to get in. Entrance, camping, and other fees will be higher at some of them.

National parks got the green light to raise fees last fall when National Park Service director, Jonathan Jarvis, issued a memo to regional directors laying out a plan. He asked park superintendents to assess their needs and engage the public to assess support for raising fees. The increases are to be used for work that directly benefits visitors. Staffs at many parks want to make improvements for the National Park Service Centennial Celebration in 2016.

Only 131 of 401 NPS properties charge entrance fees. California’s Yosemite National Park is one. Fees there go up in March 2015. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is another. Those go up in May and increase again in 2017. Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah are also proposing increases along with Mt. Rainier in Washington, Grand Teton in Wyoming, Yellowstone and others.

Entrance fees last went up in 2008, according to NPS staffers, and other fees have been static since 2006. The current increases were scheduled for implementation in 2009, but they were postponed when the economy slumped.

Park managers have had the option of exempting their park from fee increases. That happened here in Michigan.

“We looked at it and decided not to propose a change,” said Michael, Pflaum, acting superintendent for Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. “The option to raise fees doesn’t come along every year, but we determined it wasn’t in our best interest. We think the camping and backcountry fees are appropriate. We don’t charge an entrance fee.” Continue reading

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Winter steelhead on the St. Joe: good if you got the gumption

Captain Russ Clark holds up a nice steelhead landed on the St. Joseph River in late January. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Captain Russ Clark holds up a nice steelhead landed on the St. Joseph River in late January. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

BENTON HARBOR, MI — There is an old adage that says history is determined by those who show up. The same might be said about winter angling: Those who show up are the ones who catch fish.

I had a chance to ponder this notion recently. It was a toe-nipping, late-January day and I was thumbing a reel, trying to slow things down, attempting to land a 10-pound steelhead on the lower St. Joseph River. The big male slammed one of our crankbaits as the sun cleared the trees.

The fish hit where Capt. Russ Clark, owner of Sea Hawk Fishing Charters, had promised us a fish. And, that fish was aggressively attempting to get back to Lake Michigan.

“That’s a very nice fish,” Clark said, laughing in good humor when he netted it minutes later, knowing we would hold him to the promise. Continue reading

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Soldier’s story and more: Fly Fishing Film Tour returns to Michigan

Videographer Scott Thompson shoots a scene with Vietnam vet Larry Fivecoats. Photo by: D Brittain

Videographer Scott Thompson shoots a scene with Vietnam vet Larry Fivecoats. Photo by: D Brittain

By Howard Meyerson

The horror of war and the personal trauma it imparts on soldiers might seem antithetical to the peaceful nature of fly fishing. However, Colorado videographer Scott Thompson skillfully weaves those ideas together in “Breaking Through: The Story of Larry Fivecoats,” a compelling look at a Vietnam vet who comes home, hovers on the brink of suicide and finds his peace fishing flies.

Thompson’s video is a portrait of the burden soldiers carry — and a postcard for hope. It is one of 11 memorable fly fishing videos in the 2015 Fly Fishing Film Tour showing in eight Michigan cities this winter.

Fivecoats’ story of personal angst is written in his eyes. He unflinchingly recounts a battle mission gone wrong and his destitute moments after coming home. A key element in his recovery comes from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc., the nonprofit that grew out of a program for wounded vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It now operates in 48 states and aided 5,400 vets in 2013.

“Two things popped into my head about this film,” said film tour managing director Doug Powell during a phone interview from his Boulder, Colorado, office. “It’s heavy, and I was afraid it would be a big buzzkill. But it’s a story people need to know. The reaction we’ve had has been just the opposite. It got a standing ovation at our first showing in Denver.”

Thompson, the filmmaker, is a Project Healing Waters volunteer who decided to produce a video for the organization. It was shot with “little to no money,” he said. Its focus is on the man, not the group.

“This is where art meets fly fishing for me,” Thompson said. “I approached them and asked them if I could do it. Our Healing Waters coordinators in Denver were kind enough to allow me to make the film.” Continue reading

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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,, 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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