Keweenaw Point Trail!
An epic 30-mile purpose-built sustainable trail traversing the remote, rugged terrain at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Progress is underway but we need your help!
In 2003, the State of Michigan, working with The Nature Conservancy acquired 6,275 acres of land near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to prevent private development and preserve public use. This acquisition brought the state’s total land ownership on the Keweenaw Point to 8,387 acres. Soon after the acquisition, the Michigan DNR (MDNR) created an advisory group, the Keweenaw Point Citizen Advisory Committee, to make recommendations for future use of the Keweenaw Point lands. Among one of the primary suggestions finalized in 2005 was to develop a “shoreline trail that begins on the Mandan Road near the intersection of Mandan Road and Montreal River. The trail will generally parallel Montreal River to the mouth, then head east paralleling the shoreline around the tip of the Keweenaw to Schlatter Lake, then northwest towards Horsehoe Harbor and finally reconnecting with Mandan Road.”
Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) working with Grant Township, MDNR, Keweenaw County, and a number of private land owners and conservancies has taken the lead to complete the proposed Keweenaw Point Trail following the recommendations of the Advisory Committee. The trails have proven to be an economic driver for the region as trail users are filling local restaurants, brewpubs, stores, hotels and the Fort Wilkins Historic State Park Campground. The effort to protect and expand the system is part of a long-range plan to connect communities and add new experiences that utilize the land and enhance access to unique assets in and around the Keweenaw region.
Phase 1: Open!
2.6 miles of singletrack carved into the rocky hillside featuring occassional views of Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. The trail begins on Manganese Road just past the parking pull-off for Manganese Falls just south of town. Whereas most trails require grading soils to build a sustainable tread, Phase I required grading solid rock! This intermediate trail has a few small rock drops/ascents as it traverses the ridge over Lake Fanny Hooe. It is a bit tougher than average but is quite a lot more fun than your usual 'rocky & rooty' trail. After crossing Vulcan Creek, the trail embarks on perhaps its most impressive feature: the longest boardwalk you've ever seen! This 1/4 mile boardwalk traverses a dense cedar forest that would be impassable without. Eventually the trail exits onto Mandan Road a short distance past the end of US-41.
Phase 1.5 (Summer School & Owl Eyes): Open!
Half a phase? Yeah... we kinda goofed up when we started naming the different phases of this trail after we realized there was a big gap between Phases 1 & 2. Rock Solid's East Bluff Bike Park project did away with almost the entire gap in 2019 & 2020. At the eastern end of Phase 1, head east on Mandan Road for one mile until you find the access road into East Bluff on your right. This leads you to Summer School, an exciting ride along one of the most feature-rich trails in Copper Harbor. Constructed rock elements abound here, giving riders plenty of opportunities to test their skills in either direction. Summer School eventually takes you to Owl Eyes, another premier flow trail that bounces up and down the Union Creek hillside. As of early-2021 a bridge has yet to be constructed over the creek; the crossing is still passable, however. Owl Eyes hops across Mandan Road before connecting directly to the beginning of Phase 2.
Phase 2: Open!
So begins some of the most remote singletrack you'll ever ride! Phase 2's 5.5-mile intermediate course twists and turns its way through primarily public land, alternating between solid rock and dirt hard pack. Though it trends downhill the closer you get to the lake, the trail maintains its fun-factor even on the return journey. The two skinny bridges that once struck fear into the hearts of riders were replaced in 2020 with properly wide spans perfect for any user. This is a very approachable trail and fun for all levels of riding! Once you've wound your way around the deep woods the trail spits you out at High Rock Bay, the proverbial end of the Keweenaw Peninsula. A bumpy rock garden followed by a sand pit greets you at the trail's end and can be easily walked to avoid the toughest portions. Think of it as Mother Nature's way of saying "No further!" Be sure to pack a snack and your camera, because the views from High Rock Bay are some of the best around.
If you do not wish to ride all of the trail from Copper Harbor to High Rock Bay, you can pick up the beginning of Phase 2 by driving 3.4 miles east along Mandan Road past the end of US-41. The out-and-back trip from here is roughly 11 miles, a perfect afternoon adventure.
Phase 3: Red Tape In Progress (Low chance Construction will begin in 2021)
Nobody said building 15+ miles of trail in the middle of nowhere would be easy. We had no idea the difficulties would start before we even put machines on the ground! The goal of Phase 3 is to lead users from High Rock Bay south to Keystone Bay, west to Fish Cove and Montreal Falls, and north along the Montreal River corridor until we eventually reach somewhere familiar. It's generally uncharted terrain except for the key points of interest and has numerous challenges, both physical and bureaucratical. Here's where we currently stand with things.
- $500,000 is in committed to this project from the Recreational Trails Program ($125,000), Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund ($297,000), and CHTC fundraising. This was the initial estimate for the trail's construction.
- The initial trail corridor would have passed through a few pieces of private land near Keweenaw Point. It turns out the agreements we had with these landowners were not permanent, and no easements were able to be obtained due to the land being for sale. Re-routes onto DNR land were neccesary to ensure the trail would be accessible forever.
- On-the-ground layout work took place on the eastern (High Rock to Keystone) and western (Montreal River) corridors in 2020. An attractive route of high and dry ground along a ridge just east of Schlatter Lake will get us to Keystone Bay, avoiding the impenetrable wetlands near Keweenaw Point. The Montreal River corridor has exceptional terrain that could become some of the best trail built in the Copper Harbor area. However, it is interspersed with substantial wetland crossings that will drive up the cost even more than the rugged rocky glades will. Mapping the even wetter and more unknown middle portion between Fish Cove and Keystone has yet to take place.
- To comply with the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund rules, we must bid the project out. We are working with OHM Advisors to complete this work. The bid packages must be assembled by a certified engineer and reviewed by DNR staff to ensure fairness during this process.
- Prior to bidding the project out, we have to obtain all applicable permits. This means lots of wetland and stream crossing permits with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). EGLE has stated we'll need a wetland delineation over most if not all of the expected trail corridor, a time consuming and expensive task that requires experts to inspect the entire flag line and mark out potential wetlands. We are working through the requirements as best we can to avoid slowing the project down further or incurring too much cost. Wetland delineations will likely take place in the summer of 2021.
- If the eastern portion of the trail does not require a wetland delineation, it is feasible that we may be able to complete the bid package for this portion, have it reviewed and approved by the DNR, then bid that part of the project out and award a contract to the winner. If this scenario plays out perfectly, it's possible we could begin some construction in 2021. However, this is a long shot so probably best to not count on riding singletrack to Keystone Bay this year.
TL;DR version: Phase 3 is deep in red tape and construction on most of the trail will likely take place in 2022. Hard to believe the original goal was to be done by May 2021!
With the substantial amount of unforeseen work it's taken to get the project to where it is currently, it is likely the remaining part of the Keweenaw Point Trail will come in over-budget. We need your help to cover these extra costs so the project will come to fruition eventually! Please donate today!