The Thunder Bay Trail Association (TBTA) is a 501C3 nonprofit organization licensed by the DNRE to groom a 7 mile section of the more expansive 30 miles of ski trails at Black Mountain Recreational Area (BMRA), The TBTA has utilized their own state of the art grooming equipment and volunteer man power to create olympic quality ski trails over the 7 miles of trails.
Recent budget cuts by the DNRE have resulted in ceassation of all DNRE grooming at the mountain. The TBTA, decided to help out by filling the void and expanding their grooming to include the abandoned 23 miles. Best of all, the TBTA offered to provide this expanded grooming service free of charge with zero tax dollars involved.
However, DNRE representatives in Lansing, including Director Humphries declined the TBTA offer and instead decided to leave the 23 miles of trails ungroomed. A large number of ski enthusiasts from around the state as well as Senator Allen and various state representatives protested the decision but ultimately failed in their attempts to change the DNRE decision.
Recognizing the stalemate and searching for a compromise, the TBTA offered to provide the equipment, fuel, and $187 per groom (calculation based on DNRE wage/benefit of $37/hour multiplied by 5 hours of work ) . This compromise would have allowed local DNRE groomers to prepare the outside perimeter of the course which is approximately 14 miles long thus allowing skiers from any of the four DNRE plowed parking lots to access groomed trails.
The DNRE declared that fuel and equipment costs were not a factor as they were fully funded but lacked salary funds. However, for $518 per grooming, (14 hours at $37/hour), they could groom the entire abandoned 23 miles. Couldn't money be diverted from the equipment/fuel fund to cover the salary? Wait a minute, the DNRE employee was already being paid a salary as he was not laid off. One could only wish they were smart enough to understand the "creative accounting" but it would not take an accountant to recongnize that during a normal winter with weekly snowfall, the TBTA would go broke rather quickly.
So where is the public outrage? As a manager, this should have been Director Humphries' easiest decision ever. With a simple "go ahead" she could have boosted tourism to economically challenged North East Michigan and increased recreational opportunities for its local citizens. Heck, she could have even decreased the carbon footprint the administration is so fond of talking about by using the more fuel efficient TBTA equipment!.
The DNRE cited union issues as the main reason for their stance. However, since the DNRE declined the TBTA offer to pay a local DNRE worker a fair wage, that arguement does not hold water. Perhaps it was a "control" issue? LOCAL DNRE employees have done an excellent job in the past and care as much about Black Mountain as does the TBTA, unfortunately, their voices are muted in Lansing as well.
Consequently, Black Mountain was slowly becoming a "destination" ski trail for money spending, economy boosting skiers across the midwest. The DNRE will still allow grooming for the race but made clear that the course must remain abandoned after the event on March 6th. Skiers will not drive 4-6 hours to ski a 7 mile groomed course. They will instead drive to Traverse City to ski the famous VASA trail or to Marquette to ski Blueberry Ridge. Oh, maybe I forgot to mention that both of those trails are groomed by private organizations and the DNRE actually pays the private organizations to groom.
Can that actually be true? Apparently the DNRE has a double standard for places they like to frequent. However, this does not sound like the "New Michigan" way of doing things which Governor Granholm so eloquently described in her recent state of the state address. Actually it sounds a whole lot like the Old Michigan. Maybe ungroomed ski trails are part of the "Pure Michigan" campaign. In any event, it was hard get into a restaurant, gas station or motel last weekend during the VASA ski weekend in Traverse City.
Outraged yet? If so, please contact Senator Jason Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org, Director Rebecca Humphreys or Governor Granholm.
Denny Paull skier/taxpayer