Story by Glen Ruczynski, Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association President
In October, I volunteered to be part of a team of people to clear snow from the cross town transportation and recreation trail in Traverse City commonly called the TART. The trail is typically not cleared of snowfall in the winter. If it is, it's done only in sections by dedicated citizens or because it was a connector to main sidewalk routes.
What started out as a DIY, bring-your-own-shovel project turned in to a more serious and organized effort when one of the volunteers worked with a local equipment dealer, Work 'N Play Shop, to do a short-term lease on a 50 horsepower John Deere tractor with a 5' snow thrower in the front.
The unusually dry and warm winter allowed us to keep the trail clear for commuters, cyclists, runners and walkers. Our goal was to have it fully cleared within 24 hours of a snowfall and, up until recently, we had done just that.
Beginning on the evening of Friday, March 2, a late season storm dumped one to two feet of heavy, wet snow across the region. The snow and wind snapped trees and brought down power lines. More than 150,000 people were snowed in without power as temperatures dropped in to the single digits the next day.
Things weren't any better on the TART. Our machine was struggling with the heavy wet snow, with one section completely impassible. Over a mile-long section, half-a-dozen large trees and countless small trees had toppled over from the snow onto the trail.
The following morning, a few people gathered at the tractor barn with saws and protective gear. It was slow going from the deep snow, but we cut and stacked logs, removed brush and pulled vines off the trail so the tractor could clear the trail surface. Almost three hours later, we removed the last tree and the first snow-clearing pass was completed. As we made our way back, the first walker came by and thanked us. After lunch, there were already fresh bike tire tracks in the snow.
As of my writing, the majority of the TART trail is cleared and will be finished as soon as fallen power lines are cleared. We fear the worst for the 150 plus miles of singletrack we maintain and are chomping at the bit for the snow to melt enough to survey the damage. It's likely to be a significant effort to make our trails rideable again.
It makes me proud that our IMBA chapter could lend a hand where needed and to live in a town that's embracing year-round cycling opportunities. Traverse City and northern Michigan is a wonderful place to ride and live.