By Howard Meyerson
As the first dusting of snow hit southern Michigan over the holidays, I naturally gravitated down to my gear room where I thought to give things the once over. I was full of excited anticipation, much like a kid.
Cross-country skis: Check.
Day pack: Check.
‘Alright. I am ready,’ I thought to myself. And then I waited expectantly.
In the weeks that followed, I waited some more. Two winter outings came and went. Regular hiking boots were all that was needed. Even gaiters were unnecessary.
Then the warming trend arrived: rains and 50-plus degrees.
Rain jacket: Check.
Rain pants: Check.
“Who still thinks the climate isn’t changing,” I snorted aloud to no one in particular, one evening a week ago, while driving home in the rain after seeing the film “Chasing Ice,” a terrific documentary about glaciers melting due to accumulating greenhouse gases. My window wipers were thumping rhythmically.
“It’s shaping up to be a rough winter,” said Todd Neiss, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recreation specialist in Cadillac. “We have snow on the ground, but not much.”
I had called him to find out what was happening in his region.
The DNR typically grooms a number of cross-country trails in state parks and state forests. But things were running behind this year. The agency plans to groom 26 state park or recreation area trails assuming there is snow. Six of those are in the Upper Peninsula.
Recreation passport: Check
Winter forecast: Check.
Eighteen state forest pathways also will be groomed, seven of which are in the U.P. The forest pathways are my favorites. They wind through quiet, scenic terrain and along rivers, marshes, ponds and lakes. They are perfect for short outings or longer ski tours.
Some are simple loops. Others offer a network of loops which allow skiers to pick a route that best fits their skill level and stamina. Parking lots will be plowed at all of the groomed trails. They also have signs at trailheads and confidence markers on the trail for route finding.
“We added two new state forest pathways this year,” said Anna Sylvester the DNR’s northern Michigan field operations section chief for state parks and recreation areas.
Sylvester is referring to the Buttles Road Pathway four miles north of Lewiston and the Tisdale Triangle Pathway, a half-mile east of Roscommon. Both are to be groomed and are good for novice to intermediate skiers.
Buttles Road has a 2-mile, 3-mile and 6-mile loop through jackpine forests and meadows. Tisdale has four loops and offers 10-miles of skiing. A local snowmobile club offered to groom Buttles Road and the Roscommon Recreation Authority stepped up to groom Tisdale Triangle.
There are also 10 ungroomed trails in the state forests that are open. Each is marked and good for hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers, but only some have plowed parking lots.
One favorite of mine is the Mason Tract Pathway, west of Grayling, a 10-mile point to point ski along portions of the AuSable River South Branch. It’s a gorgeous trip in winter, but plan on spotting a car at each end or skiing out and back.
Sand Lakes Quiet Area, east of Acme, is another favorite. It has a network of loops and 11 miles of trail, easily a full day of touring. There are 2,800 acres to explore
Information about DNR ski trails is available on their website: Michigan.gov/dnr Click “Camping and Recreation”, then scroll down to the listings. Once you know where to go, check out MichiganTrailMaps.Com for more maps and information.
“I am kind of worried about the weather up here,” said Sylvester, who operates out of the agency’s Roscommon office. “But I am going to be optimistic and look at my rose-colored crystal ball and say we are going to have plenty of cross country skiing.”
Rose-colored crystal ball: Check.
Snow: Check maybe.
Email Howard Meyerson at email@example.com; follow him Twitter at twitter.com/hmeyerson
This story can also be found at: MLive Outdoors