2018-01-04 / Front Page

Mostly positive fat-tire bike trail reviews

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff


FAT-TIRE BIKERS enjoy a freshly groomed Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail near Glen Haven last Thursday. The trail stayed busy with bikers and skiers last week despite chilly temperatures, with coverage provided in Section Two. FAT-TIRE BIKERS enjoy a freshly groomed Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail near Glen Haven last Thursday. The trail stayed busy with bikers and skiers last week despite chilly temperatures, with coverage provided in Section Two. Despite criticism over a lack of public input, the first trail specifically for “fat tire” bikes on park property in the county has quickly become a popular draw for all sorts of winter sports enthusiasts.

Northport business owner Will Harper, who pushed for development of the trail in Leelanau State Park and now helps groom it, said he expected some conflicts among users as bikers and skiers vied for space.

But Harper said he’s seen no evidence of that.

“I have not seen any conflicts,” said Harper, owner of North Shore Outfitters. “I’ve seen just the opposite. I was expecting some conflicts, but I’ve seen everybody getting along and being friendly toward each other.”


SUSAN BIRCH Carl of Denver makes tracks on the new fat-tire bike trail in Leelanau State Park. SUSAN BIRCH Carl of Denver makes tracks on the new fat-tire bike trail in Leelanau State Park. Fat-tire bikes are a relatively recent addition to the market, and follow the popularity of mountain bikes that are designed for off-trail use. Fat-tire bikes, as their name suggests, incorporate wide tires that are under-inflated. They glide over snow that would hold back normal bike designs.

Former Leelanau State Park lead ranger Allen Ammons has been the fat-tire bike trail’s biggest critic, posting concerns on a Facebook page in a back-and-forth verbal match with Harper.

Ammons said he was as concerned about the process used by the Michigan State Parks division of the Department of Natural Resources to issue a permit to the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association to develop and groom the new trail system as the trail itself.

“It’s not about bikes at all,” said Ammons, whose career started at the park in 1973 as a seasonal worker. “I like to see transparency in government. I don’t like to see deals made in smoke-filled rooms, so to speak.”

Ammons said no public input was sought by the DNR before issuing the fat bike trail permit — but his concern goes much deeper. He said the “master plan” for park development, written in the 1980s, has never been updated.

“It does not relate to the way we live today. I was told for years that we were not going to develop trails or make other changes until we had updated this master plan ... Are we going to start piece mealing these places to special interest groups just because it’s convenient?” he asked.

Ammons said bikers had taken to the trails before the minimum four inches of snow had fallen, and he’s concerned about erosion on some of the trail’s slopes.

He also questions the need to create another bike trail given the development of the TART Trail on the east side of the county and the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“There is no critical need to have another bike trail in our county. We have plenty of them. We shouldn’t hasten our (Leelanau State Park) development until we have established facts and public opinion,” he said.

Jason Fleming, resource protection and promotion section chief for the Parks division, said the trail permit was issued on a temporary basis to test the waters for fat tire biking in the park. The trail itself was designed to roughly follow old roads, does not extend to the critical dunes area near Lake Michigan, and avoids steep slopes as much as possible, he said.

Fleming said the normal process for issuing a temporary use permit does not include reaching out for public input, although in retrospect such a step might have been helpful for the fat bike trail.

“If you are going to change the functionality of an existing trail or even the property, we generally try to reach out to the public,” he said. Would it helped to have a quick communication locally with folks out there? Maybe it would.”

He encouraged Leelanau State Park users to offer their comments on the new trail to Kasey Mahony, park manager at Keith J. Charters State Park in Traverse City, which has jurisdiction over Leelanau State Park. Her phone number is 922-5270.

Fleming said comments will be taken seriously. He pointed to a similar permit that was issued downstate to allow horseback riding on a Lake Michigan beach at Muskegon State Park. “Our point of view after that was there is more that needs to be done,” Fleming said.

Harper, too, welcomes public input — and he’s confident most voices will be positive.

“I think everybody should be heard. Al (Ammons) should be heard. I think what you’re going to find is that so far, so good. And so far, this has turned into something that people really like,” he said.

Rather than opposing the trail, he believes cross country skiers and hikers will be supportive. Fat-tire bikes are not allowed on the existing trail system in the park.

“They were getting tired of the same old trails we’ve had for 40 years now. There’s been a lot of happy people because we’ve doubled the length of the trail. They’re happy that we have more terrain. And they like the fact that I’m grooming it and laying tracks down. They can actually job, and do trail running,” he said.

He’s hopeful that a permanent fat tire bike trail permit will eventually be issued.

“You crawl before you walk ... This is a baby with step to get people use to the idea that there are bikes back there,” he said.

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We've snowshoe'd the new

We've snowshoe'd the new trail, and it is wonderful. Fat tire bikes and snowshoes can co-exist wonderfully. Prohibiting fat tire bikes from ski trails makes perfect sense, and also, draws bikes and snowshoes away from ski paths, leaving them more ski-able.