MDNR Planning Unusual "Test Damage" of Soft Hiking Trail This Weekend
April 25, 2011
[I just got this. The DNR is planning to "test damage" a vital, soft trail this weekend. Crazy! A major horse event is being planned for the Waterloo trail. It's hard to walk or ski where a lot of horses have passed if the ground or snow is soft. It might wreck this trail for a LONG time. But they might cancel it if noise is made. -- JP]
***For Immediate Release***
April 25, 2011
MDNR to Authorize Damage of Natural Resources this Weekend
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) will be taking a bold step this weekend in order to prove a point. They will be allowing one of Michigan’s natural resource recreational “gems” to be damaged in order to prove the point that it can be damaged.
The “gem” in question? A section of the Waterloo-Pinckney Hiking Trail, a scenic 22 mile point-to-point hiking trail in Chelsea, Michigan with sweeping vistas traversing rolling glacial hills through classic Southern Michigan hardwood forests.
What’s the damage on tap? The section of the trail in question, spanning the Green Lake Campground to the Mill Lake Discovery Nature Center is a sensitive trail of fall line construction with a trail tread composed mainly of sandy loam. Due to the sensitivity of this section of trail, it has historically always been open to non-motorized hiking use only. However, this weekend (Saturday April 30, 2010) the MDNR Waterloo Recreation Area Unit Manager, Gary Jones, has elected to open the trail section up to a point-to-point equestrian event that will see approximately 100 horses traverse the sensitive trail tread.
Why open the trail to equestrian use for the event? According to Jones, the Waterloo Horseman’s Association (WHA) has been pushing for additional access to trails in the eastern portion of Waterloo Recreation Area. The WHA currently has access to a wide swath of bridle trails in the western portion of Waterloo Recreation Area, including another section of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail open to bridle traffic. While Jones is familiar with the impact of equestrian use at Waterloo Recreation Area and knows that impact on trail tread from horses is substantially greater than that of other nonmotorized trail users such as hikers and bikers, Jones indicated that he can’t prove that a mass of horse traffic will have an adverse impact on a section of trail not normally open to equestrian use unless he allows the use to occur.
This might strike one as a unique way to prove a scientific point that has already been tested and proven. Studies show, and Jones admits, that equestrian use contributes to a higher rate of sediment displacement than use from other nonmotorized user groups. Indeed, this fact is why many MDNRnonmotorized trails and pathways in Michigan are closed to equestrian traffic. So, one would think that there would be no purpose in test-damaging one of Southern Michigan’s great recreational natural resources in order to prove that it will be damaged.
Could it be that there is more to this story than meets the eye? Perhaps.
Equestrians have been trying to expand their reach on Michigan’s nonmotorized trails in MDNR State Park and Recreation Areas for several years now, using the money and power of the equestrian community to exert influence in the State Capitol in Lansing. This effort culminated in Michigan’s state legislature passing the Equestrian Right to Ride Laws – Public Acts 45 and 46 – earlier last year which created a rather ambiguous expansion of equestrian rights to ride on these State nonmotorized trails.
The MDNR stood in opposition to this legislation at the time, and while the legislation eventually passed, equestrians did not gain unequivocal, universal access to ride on any MDNR State Park and Recreation Area as a result of this legislation. In fact, any trail on Park and Recreation Area land which was closed to equestrian access prior to May 7, 2008 was supposed to remain closed pending the outcome of a comprehensive review of a statewide “trails network” to be completed by a newly formed advisory sub-committee under the MDNR. Despite the fact this MDNR sub-committee has not made a decision to open up the segment of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail in question for equestrian use, apparently the Waterloo Recreation Area Unit Manager has made this decision on his own. Could it be that the Waterloo Unit Manager is now being pressured by the WHA to open up the trail for this event? This might help to better explain why a land manager would make a decision that is at odds with both the laws of science and the State of Michigan. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that politics forced a law to be overlooked.
If you still believe in the laws of science and the land, and do not like to see a government agency charged with the oversight and protection of natural resources abusing their authority and your resources in the service of a special interest group, you might want to place a couple calls or send a couple emails before the destruction occurs this weekend.
Rodney Stokes, MDNR Director, STOKESR@Michigan.gov, (517) 373-0023
Ron Olson, MDNR Parks and Rec Chief, OLSONR@Michigan.gov, (517) 335-4827
Paul Curtis, MDNR Planning, CURTISP@Michigan.gov, (517) 335-4827
Gary Jones, Unit Manager, MDNR Waterloo Rec Area, JONESG@Michigan.gov, 734-475-8307
Mark Ouimet, 52nd District Rep, State of Michigan, MarkOuimet@house.mi.gov (517) 373-0828