Huron Manistee Nation Forest Recreation Specialist Travis Owens planning a reroute. Photo: Sam Hogg
The MacKenzie Trail, located 15 miles west of Cadillac, offers over 10 miles of non-motorized trails winding through the hills and valleys adjacent to Caberfae Peaks Ski Resort. The trails, operated by the Huron Manistee National Forest, have historically served hikers, bikers, and cross country skiers. About 15 years ago, a volunteer crew from the Caberfae Ski Club cobbled together a snowmobile groomer to offer groomed cross country skiing. In 2019, the Forest Service approved a “connector” trail so resort patrons could access the trails from Caberfae property.
The trail is growing in popularity, but also in maintenance needs due to the changing environment. The prevalence of emerald ash borer has made trail clearing a year round task, as dead ash trees from 50+ feet away routinely fall in windstorms and create blockages. Similarly, the recurring “freeze/thaw” events in the winter have presented challenges for traditional snowmobile grooming. A new maintenance plan was needed, so Friends of the MacKenzie Trail was formed.
Friends of the MacKenzie Trail was started by Caberfae resident Sam Hogg to respond to these needs. “The previous maintenance plan was really more three-way finger pointing between the Forest Service, the resort, and the ski club,” said Hogg. “We all had good intentions but zero coordination. The net result was that not much got done.” The new organization will solve that to be a single point of contact for the MacKenzie Trail, provide contract maintenance services and grooming for the Forest Service, and to jointly pursue grant opportunities for future trail improvements.
Friends of the MacKenzie Trail volunteer Steve Roelfsema doing some trail clearing. Photo: Sam Hogg
A completed reroute to accommodate wider maintenance and grooming equipment in future. Photo: Sam Hogg
The first grant opportunity was successfully landed this year, with a $5,000 grant from the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, and was generously matched with $5,000 by the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. The dollars were used to widen the trail to eight feet for more modern grooming equipment and begin purchasing that equipment.
The organization will be pursuing a second phase of this grant in 2023 with hopes of purchasing an enclosed ATV groomer and some accessories to replace the snowmobile.
Perhaps more important than the dollars, according to Hogg, is the newfound cooperation between the volunteers on the ground, the Forest Service, and organizations like the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau who are promoting area trails. “Sometimes it just takes a spark to get the flame going,” he says. Perhaps that’s not a good analogy in a National Forest, but it is clear there is some real momentum on the MacKenzie Trail.