Copper Harbor’s Closed Trails Reopen After Land Acquisition

Photo: Ben Ciavola, courtesy of CHTC

After the contentious closures that shut down some of Copper Harbor’s most beloved and advanced trails for the entirety of the 2021 season, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has acquired the land that most of the trails rest on, allowing the Danimal and Flying Squirrel trails to reopen this summer. The Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) is working through a licensing agreement with the Grant Township and hopes to reopen Overflow. Unfortunately, Downtown ran through pieces of private land and will remain off-limits to mountain bikers per the owner’s decision.

After acquisition attempts with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fell through last year, John Mueller, owner of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is excited about what the land acquisition means.

“We’re showing an example of how it can be done,” said Mueller.

Last years’ acquisition attempts weren’t completed due to confusion about what a deed restriction from 1946 meant in terms of ownership and use of the land.

“The deed restriction from 1946 said that the property should be accessible by the general public, or it would revert to the state of Michigan,” says the KML in a blog post. “It was simply worded, with not much explanation. So this caused concern for both the Lodge and the county. There was case law that suggested the transaction could possibly trigger the deed restriction and revert the property to the State of Michigan.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources revitalized talks with the KML in December 2021. Now with trails and a conservation easement covering about 380 acres and the roughly 11 miles of trail sitting on the land, the KML is ready to rock and the acquisition was finalized on March 23. The easements ensure the land, the trails, and access to the trails will stay intact.

“It just makes logical sense to have that be understood — to have the same line of vision as the Copper Harbor Trails Club,” said Mueller. “There’s lots of potential to go and make things better. It’s sad what happened last year in terms of people envisioning that everything else was going to close and that wasn’t the case. It just takes a little bit of time to work things out.”

While Danimal and Flying Squirrel are reopening, they are still covered in snow and may not dry out until late spring or early summer. CHTC is hopeful that they can work through a license agreement with the Grant Township for Overflow.

“If we can get a strong license agreement in place that formalizes all these maintenance requirements of us, that we keep these trails safe, we shoulder the burden of insurance and the liability, and we would help protect the township if there ever was a lawsuit against them for any injuries on the trail. I think if we have one of these strong agreements in place, that would help alleviate a lot of their worries,” said Nathan Miller, the executive director of the CHTC.

CHTC plans to renovate Flying Squirrel, as well as Overflow and the Daisy Dukes trail, pending the agreement with Grant Township.

Miller is excited about the easements and protection for the trails, and is hopeful the CHTC can work through the agreement with Grant Township.

“With the trail easement in place, we’ll be able to keep those trails open as long as we follow the restrictions and guidance within those easement documents,” said Miller. “And so that’s just going to be the same kind of thing we’ve always done; keep those trails maintained, keep them safe, and keep them signed appropriately and we’ll be able to keep them open forever, essentially.”