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NTN Addresses Noque Trail Grooming Concerns

Fri, May  25, 2007 - By Bob Mahaney

In recent months a number of questions have been raised by members of the ski community regarding the Noquemanon Trail Network’s (NTN) grooming operations. Most of these questions centered on the lack of grooming following April’s heavy snowfalls. We thought it would be useful to address these concerns and share with you further information on our grooming policies and operations.

First, to put things into perspective, the NTN spent over $70,000 grooming our four trail systems this past winter. This is before factoring in the cost of equipment (depreciation) and insurance. Overall grooming expense this winter was lower than budgeted due to a late start to the grooming season and stringent cost controls exercised by Susan and the Grooming Staff.

The two most popular trail systems in the Marquette region are Forestville and Blueberry. Forestville trails largely sit on land owned by Longyear heirs, who have generously granted the NTN use of thousands of acres in this area. In mid-March, Longyear advised us that they were going forward with the final phase of their logging activities in this area, which required us to shut down the Forestville trails at that time. Notices went out to all of our membership advising of this action.

Just prior to the start of logging, the Forestville Bombardier (BR180XC) also had to be taken out of service for the season for a major repair. So that meant this machine couldn’t be operated any longer. Our plan was to continue to groom Blueberry as conditions warranted and as the DNR would allow. We kept one of our Bombardier groomers parked out there specifically for that purpose.

The Blueberry trails are on State land and we groom them under a contract with the DNR. This contract is rather restrictive; we can’t just simply go out and groom as conditions warrant. Rather, we are limited to grooming between specified start and end dates (Dec. 15th and March 30th), can groom only on two specified days of the week, and can groom one additional time per week if more than 4 inches of snow accumulates. Needless to say, this severely impacts the quality of the skiing. Additionally, we lose money grooming Blueberry; the DNR reimbursements do not cover our operating and equipment costs.

Late March brought warm temperatures and the melting of virtually all our snow base, so grooming wasn’t even an option. Early April, however, brought very heavy snows, and we were anxious to again groom Blueberry. However, the DNR denied our request to continue grooming, regardless of whether they paid us or not. Put more simply: we wanted to continue grooming, but were prohibited from doing so. Needless to say, we were disappointed.

This spring’s grooming situation can be described as “the perfect storm”, to borrow a phrase. The combination of Longyear’s logging, removal of one snowcat from our grooming fleet, and the Michigan DNR’s refusal to allow us to groom Blueberry left us with no viable or cost-effective means of providing late season grooming. We don’t expect this to happen again in the future. In fact, our plans are to provide a more consistent grooming schedule going forward and to work with the DNR to address the grooming constraints described above.

I strongly encourage you to contact myself directly or Susan Brian should you have any questions or comments regarding our grooming operations. I assure you that we will share with you all we know and will gladly accept any constructive criticism or suggestions.

Thank you,

Bob Mahaney
NTN President