Michigan cyclists work to halt possible trail closure

By Sue George

Michigan mountain bikers are on the verge of losing access to the Shingle Mill Pathway in the Pigeon River Country Forest. The 11 mile loop shares terrain with the 80 mile IMBA Epic ride called the High Country Pathway through the state-owned forest.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is in process of reviewing the forest management plan. An initial draft was released earlier this year, with many public comments coming back in favor of continued mountain bike access.

"Unfortunately, the final draft is a reversal of the initial draft which has supported the Shingle Mill Pathway as bike-friendly," said Eric Isaacsen, the Shingle Pathway trail coordinator for the Michigan Mountain Bike Association (MMBA) and its Northern Chapter President.

"After the public comment period, a steering committee of the forest held some closed door meetings. They recommended abolishing bikes from the Pathway, " said Isaacsen. "They say they want to reduce user impact and avoid user conflict." However, recent studies have shown that mountain biking and hiking have similar impacts, and a recent IMBA book explains how potential or actual user conflict can be reduced with certain trail features as part of the initial design or subsequent improvements.

The revised plan proposes to shift mountain bikes to forest roads and double track, but Isaacsen worries that will simply shift user conflict to the roads where potentially dangerous encounters with motorized vehicles and bicycles, often travelling at significantly slower speeds, will increase.

The MMBA has historically aligned itself with the Pigeon River Country Association to support non-motorized uses within the area. The DNR's forest division is currently reviewing the final draft plan and will host a meeting seeking public comment on November 8 at the DNR Headquarters in Lansing, Michigan.

Isaacsen reports that the DNR has been flooded recently by comments supporting continued bike access. To view a copy of the plan, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr. For more information on how to comment, visit www.mmba.org/forum and select the Northern Chapter thread.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.