Projects & History
What Are We Up To?
A lot happens every year with the Copper Harbor Trails. In the interest of keeping our followers up-to-date on what's going on and as a log for future trail buffs, we've compiled a long list of what we've completed over the years. There's a lot that's missing from the early days that we're hoping to fill in more soon. Ongoing projects are lumped into the most recent year, while others are included in the year they were completed. Looking for more info? Send us a message and we'd be happy to give you the full scoop!
We had big plans in 2021, but unfortunately many of them were halted by Keweenaw County and Grant Township raising baseless concerns about our lack of liability insurance and risk management protocols. We spent the entirety of the year fighting to reopen trails these municipalities closed, bringing in numerous experts, industry leaders, other municipal governments, and several insurance firms who all backed up our cause. Keweenaw County, Grant Township, their legal counsel Chuck Miller, and insurance agent Mark Hannula requested we increase our insurance to over $5 million in per-incident coverage with no exclusions no matter the cost. Such a policy approaches six-figures in cost for our small nonprofit, 50x what we pay currently for the industry standard insurance policy used by hundreds of organizations across the continent. No other municipality in North America has imposed such restrictions, nor have we or our landowner partners ever been sued or found liable for an injury on our trails. It is unfortunate that a few misguided government officials were determined to shut down our trails that have helped revitalize the tourist economy in Keweenaw County that so many rely on for their well-being.
Additionally, one of our long-time landowner partners decided they did not want mountain bikes on their property and eliminated access to Downtown, Stairway to Heaven, the lowest portion of Garden Brook behind the ponds and fields, Der We Went, Here We Go, and a portion of Ma Maki. Most of these trails are now hiking-only. Unfortunately, the upper boardwalks on Stairway to Heaven were removed due to their age and the desires of the landowner. They will not be replaced. Additionally, the landowner sold a portion of property straddling US-41 to a new owner that wanted no trails at all, necessitating the rerouting of the end of Garden Brook and the permanent closure of Downtown to all users.
Due to Grant Township's then-Supervisor Scott Wendt refusing to sign a Purchase Agreement to protect 164.5 acres of land for the public, the hedge-fund managed firm TRG removed the property from their available listings. As a result, CHTC lost a $50,000 grant from the Michigan Rural Development Fund to construct an easy-rated crushed gravel path from the KML to Manganese Falls. The trail would have been groomable in winter to allow skiers and snowshoers to access these important resources directly from town. This short-sighted action was a major blow to community development in Copper Harbor.
Despite Keweenaw County, Grant Township, and some private landowners trying to shut us down, we were still able to make great progress with the help of our other partners, particularly the Michigan DNR, KML, and Rock Solid. These and other partners saw the value of outdoor recreation in our community and were instrumental in keeping the momentum alive in 2021!
- We built 3 miles of the new Highlands trail, a 4+ mile loop north of East Bluff. This expert-level XC trail reaches a scenic bluff, serene forests, and narrow valleys unlike anything else in Copper Harbor.
- Rock Solid wrapped up construction of the intermediate downhill trail Whipsaw on East Bluff.
- A new expert-level downhill trail, Citrus Tech, was completed by Rock Solid on East Bluff.
- Rock Solid began work on a parking area and other amenities at East Bluff for riders to enjoy.
- A new climbing trail at East bluff paralleling Summer School was started, and a medium-sized jump trail completed on the north side of the future lower campground.
- The bridge over Union Creek on the Keweenaw Point Trail just east of the East Bluff Bike Park was completed.
The Copper Harbor Trails Fest returned in 2021 with a new title sponsor, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.
Did we mention we also worked with the Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition to advocate for the expansion of the Keweenaw Tip Recreation Area by more than 30,000 acres? That's a lot of room for more trails of every variety.
Life during COVID meant we were forced to cancel our two biggest events, Ride the Keweenaw and the Copper Harbor Trails Fest, for the first time ever. Our two clinics adapted to the challenge and were held without incident. Despite being locked down for months, we still were able to lead several major volunteer workdays on our trails. We fixed up the Flow/Overflow intersection to give riders clearer options for avoiding the Gap Jump, removed the aging boardwalks beneath the upper Garden Brook waterfall, and replaced the skinny temporary bridges on Phase II of the Keweenaw Point Trail with proper spans for an intermediate trail. Rock Solid completed work on Magic Carpet over on East Bluff, creating the best climbing trail you'll ever ride. They also extended the Keweenaw Point Trail, connecting Summer School to the end of Phase II and creating one nearly-continous trail from Copper Harbor to High Rock Bay.
We established the Back 9 Trails in 2019, adding a few easy loops for new or beginner riders to explore. To connect these to the rest of our system, we built the flow trail Cabin Life as a parallel alternative to Blue Trail. Cabin Life was constructed with funds from the Portage Health Foundation. Around this time Rock Solid Trail Contracting began working on their East Bluff Bike Park project, adding the trails Summer School and Flo'Rion. CHTC rebuilt the rest of Danimal to be wider, bigger, and safer. The Flow also saw some quick polish to eliminate some of the wear and tear that had emerged over years. Finally, West Woopidy Woo was reworked to become an exciting, fast flow trail on par with the best trails in our system. As if that wasn't enough, we also hired our first full-time Trails & Stewardship Intern, Ash Berton, to keep our trails in excellent shape thorugh the summer.
CHTC hired its second Executive Director, Nathan Miller, to lead our efforts in Copper Harbor. We built Raptor Ridge in 2018 as a fun, flowy alternative to On The Edge. Raptor Ridge was funded in part through the Keweenaw Community Foundation. As part of this project, Rock Solid also added a surprise extension onto Danimal so that it begins at Raptor Ridge and continues over West Woopidy Woo via a high bridge/drop combo. We also received funding to assist with the launch of the Churning Rapids Snow Bike Trails, purchasing a new snowmobile to help with their grooming. Finally, we adopted the Singletrack Flyers youth mountain biking initiative, a program designed to get more local kids on mountain bikes and learning the skills they need to tackle challenges both big and small.
The Copper Harbor Trails Fest hit its 25th year in 2018!
Construction wrapped up on Phase II of the Keweenaw Point Trail. These 5.5 miles did not come easy! Trail users can now access High Rock Bay almost entirely by singletrack trail and remote logging roads.
The lower portion of Garden Brook was rebuilt into a fast, flowy masterpiece that highlights the superb terrain along the Garden Brook valley. Also at this time a hiking-only trail loop was contructed along the Brockway Mountain bluff within the Michigan Nature Association's James Dorion Rooks Nature Sanctuary.
Approximately 2.5 miles were constructed for Phase I of the Keweenaw Point Trail. Financial support for project courtesy of the Steven C. Leuthold Family Foundation, Plum Creek Foundation, and Michigan DNR Partnership Grant. Not to be outdone by our women riders, the Big Boy Clinic started up this year to give men a chance to perfect their skills too. Better late than never, guys!
We're a National Recreation Trail! We also hosted the Singlespeed USA races on our trails this year. Finally, one era ended and another began: we eliminated our in-house trail workers and decided to contract with a new firm in town directly to do the work. Rock Solid Trail Contracting was born!
The birth of a giant: The Copper Harbor Trails were chosen for a Bell Built Grant to construct our monstrous downhill trail, Overflow. The small jump trail Daisy Dukes was added around this time as well. We used funds from a USDA - Rural Development RBEG program grant to purchase a new excavator and other trail implements to allow our five trail builders to construct trail even more efficiently. In 2013 we kicked off our Women's Weekend Clinic (then Ladies Weekend) with the help of Lindsey Richter from Ladies AllRide. Getting more women on bikes, one crazy weekend at a time!
Keep reaching! Copper Harbor hit the Silver-level Ride Center with IMBA, recognition only shared with 14 other trail systems in the world. IMBA also recognized our trail The Flow with a Flow Country Trail Award. We hired our first Executive Director in 2012, Lori Hauswirth, to tackle the day-to-day operations of the organization. Finally, to cap off this year-of-years we partnered with Bell's Beer to host the newly-renamed Copper Harbor Trails Fest.
Danimal and Flying Squirrel were built in 2012, giving big-air lovers a place to find their wings.
Movin' On Up: We became a Bronze-level Ride Center with IMBA! Bullwinkle was built around this time, offering visitors a longer route through the forests near Garden Brook as they descend the hillside.
The year we threw down our shovels and finally bought our first mini-excavator! The trail miles would begin adding up quickly with the addition of The Flow and On The Edge. Around this time we invested $10,000 into an endowment fund at the Keweenaw Community Foundation to generate long-term benefits for the organization. CHTC also joined the IMBA Chapter program.
The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) recognized Copper Harbor Trails as one of their premier Epic Rides. The corresponding bump in notoriety for excellence was swift. We followed this up by launching our donor program with local businesses that were seeing the benefits of increased ridership in the Keweenaw.
Woopidy Woo was built in 2009, creating a loop along the southern face of Brockway Mountain that connected to Garden Brook on either end. The rough and tumble Mango trail and our beefy downhill chunkfest Downtown were also completed in 2009.
The Copper Harbor Trails Society, Inc. was officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We immediately stopped calling ourselves Society and adopted Club instead. Our EIN is 26-2959858 in case you want to look us up. We're legit and your donations may be tax deductible! In 2008 we also hired our first trail staff to do the dirty work for us.
Later in 2008 we wrapped up construction of Stairway to Heaven and Here We Go, completing the hand-built trail sector atop the hill. To celebrate the occasion, a trailhead was established in the Township Park in downtown.
Say Hello and Der We Went were added to the map. A true network was beginning to unfold!
Trail mania set in. De Deet (now Chipmunk Run), Simeh, and Dza Beet were built.
The first version of the trail Garden Brook was built, connecting an old hiking trail through the Michigan Nature Association's James Dorion Rooks Nature Sanctuary with the top of the hill. Right from the start this has always been one of our longest trails. Ma Maki also was built in 2005.
We received our first national exposure for the Copper Harbor trails in the August issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine with their Mission Superior story. We're on the map!
The original version of Dancing Bear was built under the rocky outcrops above Copper Harbor's favorite old-school trail, Red Trail.
A post-race cookout, live music, and beer was added to the Fat Tire Festival. Now we've got a party. Additional singletrack trail development continued during this period as bikes became more capable and volunteers grew in numbers.
On the eve of a new millennium, the Fat Tire Festival race course changed from 2-track and logging roads to primarily singletrack trails. The finish line was moved from Clark Mine to the Township Park to create more of a spectator scene, setting the stage for the revelry that would continue for the next few decades. Around this time Paul's Plunge and the hidden trail Black Bear were added as cross-country ski trails. Later they'd be rolled into the singletrack trail system.
The first Copper Harbor Fat Trails Festival was held. 30 participants raced around the logging roads and two-tracks surrounding Copper Harbor, kicking off a movement that shows no sign of slowing down.
Kamikaze, a cross-country ski trail, was developed along the southern shore of Lake Fanny Hooe. For a few decades this route brought visitors into the dense cedar forests opposite Fort Wilkins. Eventually the trail was left to grow wild again after maintenance of the often wet trail proved too difficult to keep up with. Maybe someday we'll reopen this historic and beautiful corridor...
Red Trail, the first official hiking trail in the Copper Harbor area, was established during the construction of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Eventually the trail was integrated into the area's tourist amenities and was added to visitor maps. The rugged pathway brought hikers from the hilltop down to Lake Manganese, traversing the rocky ridgelines and scenic forests. Later it was rolled into our singletrack trail system and modified so that mountain bikers could enjoy the trail as well. Blue Trail was added around this time as a shorter loop for visitors, making these two recreational trails among the oldest not only in the Keweenaw, but the entire State!