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Rollerskiing on the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike

Mon, Oct  6, 2008 - By Mike Muha

About 6 or 7 years years ago, a paved trail system was built in Grayling with a $600,000 grant. The trail extended west of town, along M-72 toward the Hanson Hills Recreation Area, and north of North Down River Road toward the Grayling High School. A sidewalk connects the two paths through downtown Grayling.

Map of the Grayling, Michigan Bicycle Turnpike
Map of the north end of the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike (click for larger image)

In 2004, Crawford County used $768,732 in grants to fund a 10-foot wide paved pathway between Old 27 and Hartwick Pine States Park. $599,611 came from federal Transportation Enhancement Act funds, $149,121 from Michigan Department of Transportation funds and $20,000 from the Crawford County Multi-Purpose Pathway Committee. 

Long terms plans call for the trail to extend to Higgins Lake State Park south of Grayling.

The trail, called  the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike or the Wayne C. Koppa Trail (Koppa was chairman of the pathway committee) is heavily used by bikers, inline skates, walkers - and roller skiers.

I finally had an opportunity to rollerski parts of the trail, once in August after the Michigan Cup Committee meeting with a slew of Cross Country Ski Headquarters skiers, and again in September with a couple Hanson Hills/Cross Country Ski Shop skiers.

This review only covers the section of trail heading north and east out of town to Hartwick Pines; I haven't been over to the western section of trail. It also covers some on-road options after you reach the end of the Turnpike.

Park in the center

The only real parking for the trail is at the Grayling High School, just north of the Business I-75 and Old 27 intersection (see the red "P" on the map). From the high school, the trail extends west 3.9 miles to Hartwick Pines State Park and south 2.4 miles to the sidewalk that goes the rest of the way into downtown Grayling. (Distances are measured using my car).

Parking for the Grayling Bike Path is at the Grayling High School at the north end of town

At the Grayling High School: a bunch of Cross Country Ski Shop skies - plus Michigan Cup Chair Ernie Brumbaugh from Grand Rapids Nordic - and me, the lone Team NordicSkiRacer.

Heading south 

Leaving the High School and heading south, the trail is dead flat. It has some minor twists and turns to keep it interesting and is a great place to practice V2 and V2-Alternate.There are a few minor road or driveway crossing near the beginning, some of which are a little bumpy or gravelly. Pines trees line the route.

This section of trail ends at North Down River Road, about five blocks from the downtown intersection of M-72 and and Business I-75. Although a sidewalk leads the rest of the way downtown, it's concrete (not great for poling) and narrow (not great for skating). If you're biking, inline skating, running, or walking, no problem.

Returning to the high school gives you a round-trip rollerski total of 4.8 miles. 

Beginning of the Grayling bike path

The south end of the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike, at North Down River Road. The picture is taken from the sidewalk, looking north.

Heading east

A tenth of a mile shy of the high school is an intersection where you can turn, cross Old 27 (watch for cars!) and head toward Hartwick Pines. The path is a combination of flat, straight sections next to M-93 (Hartwick Pines Road) and gently curving and undulating sections through mainly pine forest. You are never very far for the road however.

You do cross a bridge over I-75. There are highway entrance and exit ramps at the bridge, and drivers will not be expecting you, so be careful! There is a narrow but bumpy and sandy paved shoulder on the overpass, but you'll probably end of on the road itself. Again - watch for cars, and doublepole only is cars are passing. 

Trail sections next the I-93 are subject to gravel washed from the road. In the picture below, you can see a light coating of fine gravel across the pathway. It's nothing you can't doublepole through, and it's not always there - it was totally clean during my September rollerski. 

Parts of the Grayling Bike path are directly adjacent to Business I-75

Sections adjacent to I-93 (Hartwick Pines Road) may have a gravel wash across them.

The sections of trail in the woods are really nice because the twist around a bit and have small hills. No major hills on this path - the hills are all short. The half mile or so leading end at Hartwick Pines is really nice, with several little hills - a great place to practice transitions. 

Parts of the Grayling Bike Path have some gentle ups and downs

Up a hill in the pines close to Hartwick Pines 

After rollingskiing about 3.9 miles from the high school, the Turnpike ends at the entrance off I-93 into Hartwick Pines. Turn around, and you have a nice 7.8 miles round-trip between the high school and Hartwick Pines.

The total distance from the High School to Down River Road, then back to Old-27 road cross, to Hartwick Pines, then back to the High School is about 12.4 miles - about 20 kilomters. 

The northwest end of the Grayling Bike Path, at the entrance to Hartwick Pines State park

End of the path at the Hartwick Pines entrance. 

But is it really the end of the path? 

Twenty kilometers not long enough for you? There are options to add distance.

First, it appears the road into Hartwick Pines state park is rollerskiable. I skied as far as the park toll booth on decent pavement, and I know the roads extend further into the park. And I doubt you'll need a parking sticker to get into the park! I do not know if park officials will sanction rollerskiers, but my guess is that you're safe, particularly in the fall when traffic in the park slows down.

The other alternative is to hop on the road and continue heading east on M-93. The pavement is "textured" (rough). When I first looked at the surface, I was worried that my legs would vibrate to the point of not being able to feel them. But Glenn Goodman, Robin Luce and I successfully skied 30 minutes east on M-93 with very little traffic not nearly as much vibration as I expected. And I was on my Pro-Ski C2 classic rollerskis with their relatively small 67mm diameter wheels.

You can continue rollerskiing up the road past Hartwick Pines

Glenn Goodman doublepoling up a hill, east of Hartwick Pines, on M-93. That's Robin Luce behind him. 

There are several hills along the way, just long and steep enough to be challenging. On the return path, the final downhill is a bit longer and steeper, and I actually took off my skis and ran down it. It was just a little too bumpy for my liking, and I always found classic rollerskis harder to control on downhills. Those of you with 100mm diameter skating wheels should have no problem: Robin shot right down on his skaters. 

We could have kept on going east on M-93; we turned around because we only wanted to ski a couple hours in total.

If you live near Grayling or are just passing by, the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike is worth a try.