Thanks to recent improvements, the Tech Trails now qualify for national and international cross country ski races, one of only six such systems in the nation, according to the team that did all the hard work.
“The competition portion has been brought up to Olympic and international standards, a process called homologation,” says Jim Schmierer, forester and instructor in Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science (SFRES).
“Now, we’ve improved it to the point where we are one of only six trails in the nation of this caliber,” he says. The others are located in Utah, Maine, New Hampshire, Alaska and Vermont.
The improvements mean the Tech Trails are on a short list of locations for future competitions like the US Senior Nationals and Junior Olympic Nordic ski races that have been held here in the past. A Michigan High School Athletic Association event and the Central Collegiate Ski Association Championship are slated for this winter.
“The sprint portions and the 3.3K to 12.5K race courses have all been improved,” Schmierer says. “We did trail widening, grade improving, culvert work, hazard tree and stump removal—and it was all done very quickly.”
Local trail expert Jeff Parker said the Olympic and international standards required them to increase the width of race-section climbs, for example, to nine meters wide.
“That way, two skiers skating [transferring weight from one ski to another] can pass another skier,” he says. “Other improvements included the Cemetery Loop, which was our most difficult loop. We think we’ll get more skiers using it since we changed the grade.”
Schmierer cites a total team effort—“a loose confederacy,” he calls it—that all came together with this wooded gem as their common cause.
The trail improvement team included another local trail expert, Jim Meese, who, according to Dave Nordstrom, associate athletic director for facilities and operations, “does amazing things. If not for him and Jeff [Parker], we wouldn’t have the trails we do. They have a passion for it.”
Also on the team were logger John Cowell, a 1996 Michigan Tech alumnus; SFRES forester and instructor Jim Rivard; and the University’s cross country and Nordic ski coach Joe Haggenmiller.
“We’ve incorporated our work into our courses, too,” Schmierer says. “It’s a great field class, and I’ll be teaching a forest recreation course here.”
The trail improvements have also been an exercise in reforestation, as Schmierer and his cohorts have planted “at least ten trees for every one we cut down over the years.” The newly planted trees are species native to the area: red, white, and jack pine and tamarack.
For the immediate future, Parker stresses that forest improvements are a top priority across Pilgrim Road, as well as thinning some red pine closer to the trailhead. Schmierer expects to work on older bridges, too.
The trail team will be using many volunteers and student groups to clean up the Trails even more, including picking up rocks. Soon, grass will cover the spots where trees were taken down.
“By then, you won’t even know we were here,” Schmierer says.