Survey: dune supporters include stormwatchers, ecologists, campers, economists

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s not just their beauty that people love about dunes. Some value Michigan’s sandy knolls for storm-watching.

“It was a really popular activity that we didn’t have on our radar,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation at the Michigan Environmental Council. “Some parks, specifically in Southwest Michigan, had a pretty high percentage of people rank storm-watching as the primary purpose of their visit to the dunes.”

Those storm clouds and lightning bolts are among many reasons why Michigan’s residents value the state’s dunes, a new survey is telling researchers.

“About 93 percent of people that took the survey valued dunes for their scenic value,” Garmon said. “I think that’s not surprising if you think about Sleeping Bear and some of these high-profile dunes, but that’s still a really high number.”

As one of the first of its kind, the online “How You Dune” survey administered by Michigan State University  pinpointed where and how people spend time when they visit dunes. Popular uses included beach-going and camping.

More than 89 percent of the respondents valued protection of dunes, while 80 percent valued them as a unique ecosystem.

“The idea of generational importance that ‘the dunes I enjoy today I want my kids and grandkids to have the opportunity to have and see and experience these dunes too,’ was really significant,” Garmon said.

Found mostly on the state’s west coast, the 275,000 acres of Michigan dunes comprise the world’s largest freshwater dune system. They house an ecosystem of animals and vegetation distinct to the region.

Many of these organisms rely on how the dunes migrate, a nuisance to many homeowners.

“From a coastal homeowner’s perspective, you’re always trying to keep the dunes in place,” said Shaun Howard, a Nature Conservancy project manager. “You’ve got your home and you’re worried about erosion. But they are dynamic and they are supposed to move.

“Dunes are really important as a component of the ecosystem food-chain because they have these really specific plants which have really specific insects that feed on them which in turn feed birds and other wildlife,” Howard said.

Some species, like the federally endangered Pitcher’s thistle, indicate the health of the dunes.

The plant needs the dunes to scour its seeds so they can continue to reproduce, Howard said. “Without the sand movement, you don’t get that scouring effect, and in return you get reduced germination rates of that particular plant. So we use Pitcher’s thistle success and growth as an indicator for whether the dunes are healthy.”

Coupled with understanding how individuals use dunes, researchers also sought how to galvanize dune supporters.

“We wanted to catalyze a group of dune stakeholders,” said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist with Michigan State who helped develop the survey that 3,610 people answered. “So given that we don’t know who cares about dunes, people who took the survey were invited to give us their contact information so that we could follow up. So now we can build upon this dune stakeholder community.”

Survey respondents were fairly homogeneous, Richardson said. About 87 percent are white.

“We feel like that’s also an opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources to do some targeted outreach to reach more diverse communities who may not have visited dunes or who may not be aware of the uniqueness of dunes,” Richardson said.

To reach minorities, there needs to be a reframing of the discussion about promoting the environment, said Sandra Turner-Handy, the community engagement director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

It’s not that people of color don’t enjoy nature, because they do, she said. The priorities for many people of color in the environment are about survival.

“We are long-term lovers of nature. But when we have our hands in the dirt or we’re fishing or hunting, we’re supplying our food system,” she said. “Reframing how we can enjoy the environment is happening and it will take a while. But we have to invite more people of color into the conversation about the environment so we can begin to understand how it plays a natural role in our everyday lives.”

It’s not easy to calculate the economic value of dunes. Park officials say Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore brought in 1.68 million people in 2016 who spent $183 million in nearby communities. Silver Lake Sand Dunes officials say that state park generates about $2 million a year from the 1 million people who visit. Arcadia dunes near Traverse City collects close to $1.45 million a year in direct economic impact, according to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Howard said, “They offer Michigan a unique opportunity to develop an ecotourism economy. We know people traveling from all over the country and all around the world come to see these dunes.”

As dynamic as they are, dunes are also sensitive to outside influences. When people pick them as a tourist spot, it can harm them.

“In a large dune area, there are places where people run wild,” said David Foote, the director of stewardship for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “It denudes the face of the dune, moving vegetation from an entire system.”

As a solution, the conservancy uses a tactic called controlled trampling. That makes it more inconvenient for individuals to walk on dunes by making the trails between them and parking lots longer. Fewer people walking on the dunes loosens up the sand, without destabilizing the mound.

“If you have just a trickle of people, it can free up sand that will be blown up the dune on the backside,” Foote said. “That way rare plants like Pitcher’s thistle can thrive. It’s sustainable in the long run and a way we handle public use on some of the larger properties.”

Dog sleddding is big again in snowy Michigan

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Winter is going to the dogs in Michigan. And that’s not a bad thing.

Mushers around the state that offer dog sledding, for a couple of hours or a couple of days, report increasing business. At many places, guests can ride in the sled or drive it.

Several dog sled operators say visitors come from all over the world to mush through Michigan.

“We’ve expanded again this year,” said Tasha Stielstra, who with her husband, Ed, owns Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing & Adventures in McMillan, about 15 miles west of Newberry in the Upper Peninsula.

The couple started raising dogs for dog sledding 20 years ago. About five years later they began offering sled rides to visitors, she said.

Nature’s Kennel offers half-day, full-day and overnight trips. A half-day ride is $100 per person or $250 for a sled, she said. It costs more if you want to learn to drive your own team.

“Any passengers ride with one of our guides,” Tasha Stielstra said. Visitors who want to drive their own team don’t take passengers along, she said.

Some visitors stay overnight at Nature’s Kennel’s “Musher’s Village,” which has a yurt, cabin, cook shack and sauna, she said.

The business has 140 dogs available for winter tours and another 40 for competitive dog sled racing, she said.

All dogs on the tours have raced or will race in the future, she said.

“We’re growing a lot. We’re booked or nearly booked for the year,” Stielstra said. Visitors come from all over the Midwest, and she recently booked a couple from Australia.

Dog sled rides are available from mid-December until the end of March.

Jackie and Jim Winkowski, owners of Snowy Plains Kennel in Gwinn, a few miles south of Marquette, became involved in dog sled racing more than 20 years ago. Within a year or so, they began offering sled rides to others.

“Really quickly, it became fun to share it with other people,” Jackie Winkowski said.

They turned the rides into a business about seven or eight years ago but opted to keep the operation small, she said. They have about a dozen dogs and typically can accommodate groups of one to four people at a time.

“We’re about as busy as we want to be,” Jackie Winkowski said.

Most rides at Snowy Plains are one to six miles long. A 6-mile ride for one person is $120, while shorter rides for a family of four total $160.

She has had visitors from as far away as South America, she said.

“It keeps everything new to see other people experience it for the first time,” she said. People come from across the nation to do this.

Treetops Resort offers dog sled rides along trails on its Masterpiece golf course on designated weekends, said Kevin McKinley, director of golf and ski operations at the resort, a few miles east of downtown Gaylord.

The resort began offering the dog sled rides six years ago, and the rides have become increasingly popular, McKinley said.

“If people have an inkling they want to do it, they should make reservations in advance,” he said. Reservations are available online or by phone. A 2-mile ride is $50 for one rider or $70 for two..

“It’s really a cool experience,” McKinley said of his own ride on a dog sled. “What surprised me is the power of the dogs. The power is just unbelievable.”

Kim Darst, owner of Husky Haven Kennels, has offered sled dog experiences for the past four years in Shingleton, a few miles east of Munising.

She offers half-day trips, mornings and afternoons, along a 10-mile course. Husky Haven has 43 dogs and five sleds.

“We get a lot of families,” Darst said. “That’s normally what we do.”

For $125 per adult, visitors can ride in a sled or drive one, Darst said.

Shemhadar Kennels, about 10 miles west of Cadillac, has seen a big jump in dog sled rides in the past few years, said Gina Dewey, who owns the business with her husband, Tim.

“We get people from all over the world — China, Germany, Japan,” Gina Dewey said.

Shemhadar takes one adult at a time on a 3- or 4-mile ride. That person can ride or can drive the team with help from someone at the kennel, she said. The cost is $150 for one person, she said. A second rider is $50 additional.

Gina Dewey said they take part in dog sled races all over Michigan, and the snow can be spotty.

“We probably haven’t had a good racing year in three years,” she said.

But she predicted the snowier weather would return this year.

“I think it’ll swing back around,” she said.

At most dog sled operations in Michigan, visitors meet the dogs, learn how sled teams operate and maybe warm up with some hot chocolate.

People interested in dog sledding but prefer to keep their feet on the ground might want to check out the sport of dog sled racing.

Three races will start from the Marquette area in mid-February:

  • The 230-mile UP200 dog sled race kicks off Feb. 16 in Marquette.

“It is one of the top 12-dog, mid-distance races in the Midwest, as well as being an Iditarod qualifier,” according to the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association.

The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, which is run in March, is about 1,000 miles long.

  • In Marquette, the 90-mile Midnight Run also will start Feb. 16, according to the U.P. association’s website.
  • The 26-mile Jack Pine 30 race will begin Feb. 17 in Gwinn.

“We’re seeing a resurgence in interest” in dog sledding, said Anna Dravland, director of community relations and event marketing at Travel Marquette, which is part of the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dravland said 8,000 to 10,000 visitors typically show up to watch the sled dog teams race.

“It’s the most amazing experience watching them go,” she said.

Bill would let some counties veto state land purchases

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Counties with lots of public land are looking to take some control over state land purchases.

A pending bill would grant local governments more power when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) buys land, while also making sure the state pays its tax bill on time.

The proposed change is in response to the local governments that are upset the state has too much control over northern Michigan land, said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, a cosponsor of the bill.

“I always hear the reason the state wants to own the land is so you and I can enjoy the land,” he said. “Yet in my area, far too often, land was gated up or fenced off and access was cut off.”

Critics say the bill restricts statewide land management decisions.

Casperson worries it’s too difficult for people to buy land from the state. The Michigan Association of Counties, which supports the bill, wants counties to be able to veto state purchases. And groups like the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance take issue with how the DNR allocates land.

“If conservation is the wise use of resources that benefits the most people for the longest time, then that’s not what is happening,” said Dale McNamee, the former president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Parts of the bill guarantee sportsmen they will have land where to hunt.”

McNamee says the DNR often doesn’t take advantage of public land by prohibiting mining, fishing and hunting. The alliance promotes recreational experiences and encourages conservation of natural resources in the area, he said.

Under the bill, counties with more than 40 percent of their land owned by the state would have approval power over any additional state land purchase in their county. As of 2016, six counties fit that description: Cheboygan, Crawford, Dickinson, Kalkaska, Luce and Roscommon. Of the almost 4.6 million acres the DNR owns, 85 percent is north of the Mason-Arenac line, an invisible line that stretches across counties north of the Thumb.  

The Michigan Environmental Council opposes several parts of the bill.

“Our issue with that is these are statewide land management decisions that are supported by a lot of people,” said Sean Hammond, the council’s deputy policy director. “This would allow a single county to hold up a statewide land management decision. We think that’s not the appropriate way to make these decisions.”

The council disagrees with restricting the DNR’s purchasing power if the state isn’t current on payments it makes in lieu of taxes. When the state buys land, not only is the county getting money for the initial purchase, but to offset the property taxes it isn’t receiving, the state pays what are called Payments In Lieu of Taxes or PILT.

If the state fell behind on these payments, the bill would allow a cap on how much land the DNR could purchase would go into effect. The council disagrees with this because, while the DNR purchases land, the payments are appropriated by the Legislature, not the department itself.

“We’re questioning why we need to tie those together when they are completely separate entities,” Hammond said.

While payments have been late in the past, the DNR says the state doesn’t usually miss PILT payments.

Both the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs oppose the bill.

Sponsors hope to improve local business opportunities impeded by public land ownership, Casperson said. In 2014, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, a big money-maker for Luce County, was looking to purchase land held by the DNR.

Instead, the business had to buy 160 acres the state wanted, then swap it for the land it preferred, which took years, Casperson said. More than half the county is owned by the state.

“When we can’t even help little businesses like this and there is so much economic turmoil in the region, it’s really unfortunate,” Casperson said. “There may be benefits to the state owning public land, but not through the local economy.”

That’s where the environmental council sees it differently.

The philosophy behind these bills is the state has too much public land and that doesn’t help the economy, Hammond said.

“Well, we see it the other way. We see tourism and recreation growing at huge rates. Trail running, mountain biking, birding, these are all industries that are growing, and where’s the best place to do them? On the state’s public land.”

The DNR says the  legislationl wouldn’t have much effect on the way it does business, because it  already uses many of the practices the bill mandates.

“We recognize there was justifiable concern that the DNR was making decisions about local land ownership without fully considering the interests or needs of local government officials,” said Ed Golder, the DNR’s public information officer. “So we’ve changed that engagement model.”

When a new land strategy was developed in 2013, DNR director Keith Creagh met with many northern county officials to gauge how they felt about how the government uses public land.

Since then, it’s become standard practice to seek approval from local governments and to seek agreement on the footprint of state-managed public land, Golder said.

It’s a practice that officials with the Michigan Association of Counties say they appreciate.

“We support the bill and we support the DNR working with counties,” said Deena Bosworth, the director of governmental affairs at the association.  “This bill codifies the relationship they have been working on for years now.”

The bill passed the Senate in mid-October and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Snowmobile sales rebound but less snow, fewer riders slow recovery

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Warmer weather and a cool state economy have teamed up to mean fewer snowmobile riders on state trails — and less money in the pockets of those who rely on them.

A snowy winter at the peak of the snowmobile era could pump nearly $1 billion into economy of the state, with its nearly 300,000 registered snowmobiles and thousands of miles of snowmobile trails.

But snow hasn’t always been a sure thing in Michigan’s winter wonderland recently.

And, according to the Secretary of State’s office, registrations have been falling over the past decade.

In October, 283,884 snowmobiles were registered in Michigan, said Laura Lehman, a communications representative for the Secretary of State. That’s down from October 2007, when 390,168 snowmobiles were registered..

A three-year registration costs $30, the Secretary of State says.

Snowmobilers need an annual state-issued trail permit sticker to ride on public roads “where authorized,” and on public lands and trails, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

An annual trail permit is $48. Snowmobile trails i officially open Dec. 1 and close March 31.

During the 2016-17 winter season, about 130,000 trail permit stickers were issued, said Paul Gaberdiel, a trails specialist with the DNR in Newberry. That’s down from about 200,000  issued in the 2006-07 season, Gaberdiel said.

He said he blames the downturn on the cost of snowmobiling, inconsistent temperatures and snow, and the Great Recession of 2007-09, which hit Michigan especially hard.

“It just hasn’t rebounded from there,” Gaberdiel said.

Bill Manson, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, says snowmobiling depends on disposable income, and there has been less of that since the recession.

But he is optimistic about the future of snowmobiling in Michigan.

“We’ll come back,” said Manson, whose 17,000-member organization is based in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

In the late 1990s, sales of new snowmobiles in Michigan reached about 20,000 a year, he said. By 2008, sales had plunged to about 3,000 units a year, he said, but rebounded to about 6,000 last year.

“There’s a good feeling among hard-core snowmobilers that this is going to be a good winter,” said Manson, who counts himself among those hard-core riders.

“We’ve stabilized. If we have a good winter, I think we’ll see permits, sales, registrations all go up,” he said.

Back in 2007, before the recession hit, snowmobiling was a $1-billion-a-year industry in the state, he said. These days, the industry has slipped but still contributes about $800 million a year to the state’s economy, he said.

Sales, permits and registrations account for much of that impact. In addition, the average snowmobiler out on  winter trails will spend about $150 a day for gas, food, lodging and other expenses, he said.

State officials don’t break down how much is spent on snowmobiling but do know how much vacationers spend overall in the state in the winter months.

Last winter, leisure travelers in Michigan spent nearly $3.9 billion, out of $15.3 billion for the entire year, said Michelle Grinnell, director of media and public relations for the state’s Economic Development Corp. Travel Michigan program.

At Copper Country Rentals in Calumet, about 10 miles north of Houghton and Hancock, snowmobile rentals have been on the rise, said owner Susan Bushong.

“I see that trend toward renting” and away from buying snowmobiles, Bushong said.

With renting, she said, snowmobilers avoid a lot of expenses, but still “get a new sled every year.”

Bushong, who has 30 snowmobiles available for rent, said it already is snowing in the Upper Peninsula, but she expects business to pick up by late December as the snow starts piling up.

In Michigan, wetter-than-average weather is expected in the coming months, according to the most recent winter outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).That same report said Michigan has an equal chance of being warmer or colder than normal this winter.

Blame the uncertainty on La Niña, which is “potentially emerging for the second year in a row as the biggest wildcard in how this year’s winter will shape up,” NOAA said in its  report. During La Niña, parts of the Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal, affecting the weather in North America.

The 2018 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a warmer than normal winter, with slightly above normal precipitation in most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the tip of the Lower Peninsula, the almanac says, winter will be warmer than normal, while precipitation and snowfall will be below normal.

The Pure Michigan website says Michigan’s more than 6,500 miles of groomed snowmobiling trails “are one of the most extensive interconnected snowmobile trail systems in the nation, made even better by the state’s abundant and dependable snow.”

About 3,000 miles of the trails are in the remote, rugged and typically snowier Upper Peninsula.

According to the Otsego County Historical Society, the first U. S. patent for a snow machine, the predecessor of the modern snowmobile, was awarded in 1916 to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, which is south of Gaylord.

Legal strings attached to airbow

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Does Michigan need more ways for disabled people to hunt game like deer, duck and bear? Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, thinks so.

The Upper Peninsula lawmaker wants to legalize the use of a pneumatic airbow, a crossbow that uses compressed air instead of a string for power.

The idea is to create more hunting experiences for people who cannot pull back the string of a traditional crossbow.

“A lady in my district, who has been an avid deer hunter her whole life and was getting up there in age, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” said LaFave, who recently introduced legislation to allow the weapon. “So she can’t crank a crossbow anymore.”

She applied for a permit through the Department of Natural Resources(Department of Natural Resources) to use the weapon. Agency officials declined, citing a need for a change in the law. So she went to LaFave for help.

Folks in southern states like Texas and Louisiana have legalized the use of the airbow, which is a very effective weapon for killing game, LaFave said.

And that’s a problem, according to some critics.

“We do not support this legislation,” said Tony Demboski, the president of the Upper Peninsula Sportmen’s Alliance. “We have so many means of hunting, whether it’s firearms, bows or crossbows, there’s already too much pressure on hunting deer.”

Demboski said he is especially concerned how groups like humane societies might characterize the use of weapons like this.

That’s not the only snag LaFave’s bill has hit.

Months before it was introduced he brought up the option of legalizing airbows to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) a statewide coalition of outdoor groups based in Lansing. It disapproved of classifying an airbow under the same umbrella as a cros bow.

“It’s more of a pneumatic gun than archery equipment,” said Dan Eichinger, its executive director. “It has everything do with the mechanics behind it. With archery equipment, you’re drawing a string back. This thing is so powerful, it’s more like a firearm.”

It shoots arrows, so it should be defined as a bow-hunting tool, LaFave said. But because the MUCC doesn’t agree, only disabled hunters could use an airbow during bow-hunting season. Anyone else could hunt with one only during firearm season.

What all parties agree on is the that the aging population of hunters needs to be accommodated with special  weapons and programs.

“There’s been more growth in the last 10 years than in the prior 30 years expanding these programs,” Eichinger said. “People are living longer and there just isn’t as much interest in younger people to go hunting.”

Accommodations are made for many kinds of disabilities, from lung and cardiovascular problems to mobility issues.

That’s another reason Demboski doesn’t agree with the bill. So many accommodations for disabled hunters are out there, adding more isn’t necessary.

“Michigan already has lots of ways for disabled hunters to continue hunting,” he said. “The U.P. even has one business that has state-of-the-art equipment specifically designed for assisting disabled hunters.”

He’s talking about Wheelin’ Sportsmen, based in Escanaba. In 2007, Ken Buchholtz got the idea to build trailers to accommodate hunters with mobility problems. Since then it’s become nationally recognized.

The trailers are outfitted for wheelchairs and have TV screens that act as scopes and rifles that accommodate many physical handicaps.

People are living longer, but with older hunters comes more disabilities, Buchholtz said. “Hunting is a big part of people’s lives, so when that becomes harder to do for them, it can be really sad.”

Buchholtz is also the Upper Peninsula district director for the Accessibility Advisory Council at the DNR, a group that bolsters efforts to keep disabled hunters in the sport.

While LaFave would prefer airbows be available to all hunters during the entire archery season, meeting other groups in the middle for him is where it counts.

“My goal ultimately was to help this individual and others with disabilities,” he said. “If a compromise is what I need to do, a compromise is what I’m going to come up with.”

All those orange traffic barrels can have a second life

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — A Michigan company is recycling orange traffic barrels into an artificial snow surface that could combat fewer snowfalls in the future and is already turning backyards into ski slopes.

The Plainwell-based company called mSnow hasfound a home in at least two Michigan skiing hotspots – Mount Brighton and Crystal Mountain. Mount Brighton will showcase the product at its inaugural Fall Fest Oct. 21-22.

Whether the surface could address ski slope owners’ concerns over climate change is uncertain. Large-scale implementation of the mSnow surfaces has yet to begin and questions remain over its feasibility, said company co-owner, Luke Schrab.

The barrels, damaged by cars and beyond repair, are transformed into tiles and pieced together to make surface areas to practice skiing and snowboarding. They are used primarily by kids to practice in their backyards, but have begun to attract nationwide attention.

The average backyard setup costs between $200 and $300, Schrab said. To build a setup down a hill would cost a substantial amount. Also the surface isn’t for beginners or intermediate skiers. Larger slopes made of the surface become a bigger safety risk.

Simple falls on the surface can cause scrapes, he said. An entire slope of the surface would require more protection

“Even though a lot of areas are not installing it to be able to ski down a slope, there are little ways they use it,” Schrab said. One is mSnow’s development of tubing lanes to allow inflatable tubes to slide down slopes in the summer. Places that have instituted tubing lanes in the past include Breckenridge in Colorado and Brian Head in Utah.

Climate change could increase the demand for artificial surfaces.

But artificial surfaces are not an option in the foreseeable future as a replacement for snow as the ski industry is still alive, said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

Ski areas across the country have installed artificial surfaces for summer training and on a small scale at resorts but they’re not needed to replace a full slope, Berry said. “It’s not all doom and gloom in the industry.”

But large scale artificial surfaces could be useful because they don’t need much snow, Berry said.

The popularity of artificial surfaces has risen as a way to train and to combat less snow, he said.

Orange barrels are manufactured by private companies that rent them to construction companies with state  contracts. Instead of heading to the landfill, damaged barrels are bought by or given to mSnow by the companies that rent them to construction companies, Schrab said.

The barrels are cleaned, molded into tile pieces and an additive is applied to make them slippery, Schrab said.

Schrab and his brother competed across the Midwest in skiing competitions. To compete in inverted aerial events they had to train in the summer. After skiing on an artificial surface in Park City, Utah, they thought about developing their own surfaces.

“Those traffic barrels are a similar plastic to what gets used for ski surfaces,” Schrab said. “Normally, it is a polyethylene. There are other types, but that’s what the barrels are made of.”

Kids who crafted backyard practice setups from mSnow made them popular, Schrab said. Word of mouth at ski resort and trade shows prompted Mount Brighton and Crystal Mountain to pick them up.

Caberfae Peaks Ski and Golf Resort near Cadillac has implemented mSnow surfaces into its resort for liftoffs but has put more money into man-made snow operations, Caberfae general manager Pete Meyer said.

Decline in boat registrations creating a lack of funding for marine patrols

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Over the past decade, state funding for the marine divisions of sheriffs’ offices in Michigan has dwindled with the decline in the number of registered boats.

At the same time, the number of unregistered canoes and kayaks has increased, leading to calls for the owners of those craft to also be required to pay the registration fees that support rescues and other boating programs

“We’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in funding,” said Mackinac County Sheriff Scott Strait. “It’s roughly one-third of what it was 10 years ago.”  

Marine divisions offer boater safety classes, patrol waterways and conduct search-and- rescue missions on the water, including areas of the Great Lakes.

The  Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers Marine Safety grants to county sheriff departments for marine patrol divisions. The grant money comes from boat registration fees.

However, a decline in registered boats has led to a decrease in the grant money vailable, and sheriffs’ offices across the state are feeling the effects, said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

In 2007, there were 827,869 registered boats in Michigan. By 2012, there were only 800,793. Last year that number dropped to 790,425, according to the DNR.

The amount available for Marine Safety grants is decreasing with the decline in registered boats. In 2007, it  was about $3.5 million. In 2012, it fell to about $2.8 million.  In 2016, it was about $2.2 million, according to the DNR.

“Funding here is roughly half of what it was when I first started,” said Sgt. Eric Decker, from the Marquette County special operations division. “Ten to 15 years ago, grant money was somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000. It’s now down to between $17,000 and $20,000.”

In the past, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office used funds from the DNR grant to purchase new equipment, but he said the lack of funding is now forcing the county to make some tough decisions.

“We haven’t been able to replace equipment,” Decker said. “We have an aging boat, but we haven’t been able to replace it because grant money has gone down. It’s now looking like the county will purchase the boat and will put off getting a new patrol car for another year.”

An increasing problem counties are seeing is the number of calls they receive from canoers and kayakers in distress.

“We’re seeing major issues with kayaks,” said Kelly Hanson, the Huron County dheriff. “We’ve been called out over 70 times this year for kayak rescues.”

In Michigan, canoes and kayaks do not have to be registered. When users call for help, they are using marine division resources without contributing to the funding, Strait said.

Strait said his office is receiving a growing number of calls from kayakers, especially in the Straits of Mackinac. Deckersaid Marquette County is also getting more calls involving kayakers in trouble.

All three sheriffs say that  requiring canoes and kayaks to be registered would improve the funding situation.

They’re not alone.

“This is something we’ve wanted to see happen for years,” said Mark Miltner, vice president of Michigan Association of Paddlesport Providers and owner of Pine River Paddlesports Center in Wellston, about halfway between Manistee and Cadillac.

“The number of people who own personal crafts is increasing, and they’re not always experienced,” he said. “Sheriff marine divisions are getting called out more and more to do search and rescues.”

Decker said the drop in funding  means fewer deputies on the water.

It’s a concern that Hanson shares.

“At one time we had a marine patrol seven days a week,” he said. “Now we just have a weekend patrol.”

Hikers have a new Michigan favorite: Mount Arvon

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — You won’t find Mount Arvon listed in many Michigan tour books, despite the peak’s lofty status as the highest point in the state. And until a few decades ago, it wasn’t even recognized as Michigan’s top spot.

But these days, Mount Arvon in the western Upper Peninsula is getting more attention from tourists and the just plain curious willing to climb Michigan’s most prominent peak. It also is attracting a national convention of mountain climbers in 2019.

Tracey Barrett hikes to the summit nearly a dozen times a year.

“It’s a cool place to go,” said Barrett, director of the Baraga County Convention & Visitors Bureau in L’Anse. “There’s a view of Lake Superior and Point Abbaye. It’s really pretty, really remote.”

Mount  Arvon, which is in L’Anse Township, is a 27-mile drive east from the village of L’Anse, Barrett said, and “years ago, there was hardly a road” to the peak.

The road going up the mountain has been improved, she said, and a parking lot near the top was added in 2012. But the road is not plowed in the winter, which can come early in the U.P. So once the snow flies, only visitors on snowshoes or snowmobiles can reach the top, she said.

From the parking lot, it takes just a few minutes to hike to the top of Mount Arvon. Once there, visitors can sign a notebook to verify they reached the summit.

Back in L’Anse, people who have conquered Mount Arvon can pick up a certificate of achievement at the Baraga Visitors & Convention Bureau office, she said.

Barrett says her office also hands out magnets and stickers from the national Highpointers Club, a group that promotes climbing to the highest point in every state.

Each year, the club holds an annual convention in a different part of the country, said Tim Webb,the  president of the Highpointers Club.

The club divided the country into four geographical regions and rotates its annual convention sites through those regions, Webb said.

Club members voted to gather near Mount Arvon in 2019, he said.

“The exact dates are not set for this convention yet. However the traditional timing for our conventions is the third weekend in July,” said Webb, who expects the gathering to draw 200 to 250 attendees.

This year, the Highpointers www.highpointers.org met in Massachusetts. Next year, the group plans to gather in Arkansas.

Webb said he has climbed Mount Arvon twice, first in the summer of 1997. He returned in 2007, this time with his wife, son and daughter.

Some people who come to climb Mount Arvon  stay at nearby campgrounds or a lodging facility in L’Anse or Baraga, Barrett said.

An increasing number of visitors to the Baraga Lakeside Inn are using it as their base camp for their climb to the top of the mountain, said Lori Thomas, who works at the front desk of the 68-room hotel on the shore of Lake Superior.

The visitors are from all over the country, including California, and many stay for a few days, said Thomas, who said she has climbed Mount Arvon several times.

Although the peak is open to the public, it is on private land owned by the Weyerhaeuser Co., with headquarters in the state of Washington, said Kristine Rice, the L’Anse Township’s treasurer.

There is no way to count exactly how many people climb Mount Arvon each year, said Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association in Iron Mountain.

“But traffic is definitely up. There’s a lot more people asking about going up there,” Nemacheck said.

He said he also is seeing more interest in another Michigan peak, the 1,400-foot Mount Zion near Ironwood.

From the top of Mount Zion, Nemacheck said, there is a “terrific view” that includes Lake Superior and the Black River valley, with its multiple waterfalls.

According to the state’s Pure Michigan website, Mount Arvon rises 1,979 feet above sea level and is part of the Huron Mountains range.

“When you reach the parking lot you are within 300 feet from the top,” the website says. “After you sign in at the register, to the north of the top there is a short walk to a panoramic view of Lake Superior.”

For many years, nearby Mount Curwood, named for author and Owosso native James Oliver Curwood, was considered the highest point in the state. But a new survey in 1982 determined that Mt. Arvon was taller — by 1 foot.

What happened to my little lake? Invasive species moved in

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — In 1941, my grandparents built a small cottage on a small lake in northern Michigan. The cottage remains in the family today.

But while the ownership hasn’t changed, the lake has. Like many other inland lakes in Michigan, alien species have invaded ours.

A few years ago, we started spotting clusters of zebra mussels, originally from Russia, clinging to rocks and submerged logs in the lake.

Purple loosestrife, another foreign invader, started popping up along the edges of the water.

More recently, we noticed long, feathery plants rapidly filling in parts of the lake. Eurasian watermilfoil, we were told.

Then we saw a new kind of reed growing along the shoreline of our little lake — a type of phragmites originally from Europe.

Concerned about these unwelcome new residents to the lake, our lake property owners association hired a lake management company to survey it and recommend possible treatment options.
In the course of its survey, the company discovered another recent arrival, tiny freshwater jellyfish. They’re originally from China.

That’s at least five invasive species that have moved into our lake.

The lake management company recommended chemical treatments that knocked back the milfoil and phragmites. Property owners can pull up the purple loosestrife.

We have to cope with the mussels. And we were told the little jellyfish are harmless.

Our lake’s problems with foreign invaders are minor compared to the plight of the Great Lakes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that more than 180 invasive and non-native species have severely damaged the Great Lakes’ ecosystem — so far.

Although it’s less well-known, many of those invaders also have found their way into Michigan’s 11,000 inland lakes. Many rivers, streams and ponds also are affected.

“Invasive species in inland lakes are a major concern in Michigan. From zebra and quagga mussels to Eurasian watermilfoil to European frogbit, each introduction changes ecosystems and affects recreational opportunities,” said Joanne Foreman, a communications coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) invasive species program.
The state is heavily involved in spreading the “Clean, Drain, Dry” and “Don’t Dump Your Bait” messages to encourage boaters and anglers to reduce the spread of invasive species to inland waters, Foreman said.

Such efforts may slow the spread of invasives but can’t turn back the clock.
Curly-leaf pondweed, originally from Europe and Asia, came to Michigan’s inland waters about a century ago, said Scott Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Lake and Stream Association based in Stanton.

Eurasian watermilfoil has been in the state since the late 1940s, Brown said, adding, “It’s had a major effect on the (inland) lakes in the Lower Peninsula.”

And when it comes to battling watermilfoil and other invasives, property owners around the affected inland lakes discover they’re often on their own, Brown said.

So it’s usually up to the local property owners to come up with the money, through voluntary collections or special tax districts, to fight the invaders.

Brown said more has been spent combatting milfoil than any other invasive aquatic species in Michigan.

“It probably presents the greatest threat,” he said.

A 1954 law allows local communities to create special assessment districts. Among other things, these districts authorize communities to raise tax dollars to fight aquatic invaders.

In recent years, the Department of Environmental Quality has been issuing about 4,000 permits annually to combat aquatic nuisances, Brown said. Most of those efforts have been paid for through special assessment districts.

Each year, $30 million to $35 million is spent in Michigan on chemical treatments to control aquatic invaders, he said.

“It’s very sad. These species are irrevocably altering our lakes,” Brown said. “And hundreds of these lakes are going untreated.”

Eurasian watermilfoil was detected in Wexford County’s Lake Mitchell in the 1940s, Brown said. In the mid-1950s, the lake was among the first in the state to get a special tax district to control milfoil and other invasives, he said.

Mark Tonello, a DNR fisheries biologist, surveyed Lake Mitchell and issued a report on it in 2012.

“Lake Mitchell has had a Eurasian milfoil infestation for many years, requiring treatment on an annual basis,” Tonello wrote.

Zebra mussels were found in nearby Lake Cadillac in 2010, he said. They were then documented for the first time in Lake Mitchell in 2011, near the outlet canal that connects the two lakes.

So what should property owners do about their own lakes?

“One thought is to try and keep invasive species out in the first place. The second would be to jump on any invasions early in the process,” Tonello said.

“For example, if Eurasian milfoil shows up in a new lake, you might be able to eradicate it early on. Some exotics you can’t really do anything about — zebra mussels for example. So prevention is pretty important.”

Aquatic invasive species “are as much of a threat to inland lakes as they are in the Great Lakes,” said Andrew Tucker, a scientist who works on invasive species issues with the Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Project, which operates from the nonprofit’s Lansing office.

Tucker said Michigan property owners on inland lakes aren’t entirely on their own when it comes to dealing with aquatic invaders.

The state’s Invasive Species Grant Program funds various inland lakes projects, including projects that the Nature Conservancy also is working on to control invasive plants, he said.

“Michigan spends as much as $25 million annually on control of just one species, Eurasian watermilfoil, and much of that is spent on inland lakes,” Tucker said.

He said detection of new invaders in the state’s inland waters, including red swamp crayfish and New Zealand mudsnails, will continue to draw attention and probably resources to Michigan and other Great Lakes states.

TABLE: Michigan counties with the most dairy cows.
1. Huron
2. Calhoun
3. Saginaw
4. Gratiot
5. Ingham
6. Missaukee
7. Ottawa
8. Newaygo
9. Lenawee
10. Eaton