Help make the Avalanche Destination Trails a reality.
The Story of the Avalanche Destination Trail Project
Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association (TOMMBA)
The Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association (TOMMBA) created a vision a few years ago in late 2012 that sought to create a destination trail within the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. A destination trail didn’t exist in the area, although the area was rich with many different and memorable trails. A lot of great single track exists as part of the North Country Trail and on various land conservancy properties. In addition, the TOMMBA region is the home of the IMBA Epic ride called the High Country Pathway, which loops around the Pigeon River Natural area for 80 miles. TOMMBA volunteers have even created a new flow loop at the Boyne School Forest Trail which has become a regional favorite for users of all levels. It has been a trail that has far exceeded TOMMBA’s expectations in its enjoyment by all mountain bikers.
TOMMBA’s vision for a destination trail still needed to be realized. This destination trail would be the highlight of our region’s trail system, the trail that would make people visit from around the Midwest and stay for a few days. This trail needed to have loops of varying skill levels with memorable flow and some challenges. It needed to be near a destination city with many of the amenities that mountain bikers typically enjoy. Brewpubs, restaurants, water, hills, forests, and lodging needed to be part of the mix and in close proximity.
No matter what, the new trail had to be done in a sustainable manner. This was going to be crucial to reduce maintenance needs and to ensure that the land manager of this destination trail would be satisfied with the preservation of the land for future generations.
After working with people in Boyne City to create the Boyne School Forest Trail, TOMMBA realized that this community had a lot to offer. A favorite trail for many local mountain bikers was a 4.5 mile trail in a Boyne City park located close to the downtown. This trail is called Avalanche. It was an old ski hill and has some of the most attractive woods and topography in northern Michigan.
However, the conditions of the trails were deteriorating. Having educated ourselves and the people of our region through visits by the IMBA Trail Care Crew, we were able to see that the existing trail system needed improvements. Although it was exciting to ride these trails, these were not built sustainably and needed some attention. Fewer riders were taking on the challenge of the trails’ ever-increasing difficulty. Yet they remained some of the local mountain bikers’ favorite trails.
TOMMBA board members began discussing the possibility of adding some trails with city staff and the city Recreation Commission. Initial reactions were positive and encouraging. This is a city that is always willing to try something new and they were welcoming of this idea. Boyne City is one of the most notable and successful Main Street communities in the state of Michigan. They are well known for successful downtown and waterfront events, streetscapes, and start up business successes. The idea was also well received. Since TOMMBA was a chapter of IMBA and IMBA’s trail sustainability standards were well recognized gave the city confidence in the project. The community leaders appreciated that we were going to tap professional trail builders who would follow sustainable trail building standards.
The first step of the process was to invest $6000 on a Conceptual Trail Design Report. This was done by IMBA Trail Solution’s Alex Harrington. The plan was well-received because it incorporated crucial information from the Avalanche Preserve Master Plan and other city planning documents. Alex did an excellent job recognizing the interests of the many user groups who share the park. The park is appreciated by nature lovers, disc golfers, hikers, cross country skiers, snowshoers, ice skaters, and mountain bikers alike. There’s even an archery range in the park.
Step two was to review the natural resources on the property. Many in the community feel very protective of the park’s natural resources. For this reason, a natural resources inventory was conducted. Funded by a local foundation, the study was done to ensure that any proposed trail development would not damage those natural resources. A local natural resources planner conducted a thorough inventory and plan that told a very interesting story of the natural history of the park. It was clear that the areas of the park identified for future trails in the concept plan would not be in areas where there were any endangered or protected species.
Presentations were made to the City of the Trail Concept Design Plan and the natural resources plan. These plans were presented to the staff, recreation commission and city council. The city council was asked at the time of the presentation to indicate if they were still favorable toward new trails at the park. We asked for this indication from the council because were planning on investing an additional $20,000 on trail design plans including construction drawings which we hoped would provide the final construction documents. The council’s indication was that, if the plans were agreeable, the trail could be built.
Funding was raised and the consultants were hired to do the construction drawings. Alex Harrington of IMBA Trail Solutions was no longer available to do the next phase. Such is the situation with trail builders as they are in high demand and schedules are constantly changing. We hooked up with Chad Irey of Dirt Artisans and Scott Linnenburger of Kay-Linn Enterprises. Together they would come to the site, flag new trail corridors, and provide a report and construction drawings. Field work was conducted in November of 2015 with the final plans completed in January of 2016.
Leading to the presentations of the construction drawings to the city officials, TOMMBA had been hearing of comments by the general public that included skepticism that the new trails would wipe out the classic old-school trails and bring in “dumbed down” flow trails. Local bikers were concerned the new trails, which would replace the old trails, would not have the same unique challenges of the old trail. Even though the old trails were deteriorating, they were much loved by many locals and we could see some potential problems with the original plans to replace the old trails.
TOMMBA hosted an informal gathering of mountain bikers from the area who were known to be very involved in the Avalanche trails. We reserved a room at a local restaurant and invited them to see the plans and discuss the project. Those invited were very forthcoming with their opinions and it was clear they were dedicated to the old trails. One person who was invited was a city council person. This person asked if the old trails could remain and the new trails added, thereby creating an even larger trail system. Although there would be some additional trail crossings that may have to be changed, it was agreed that we would propose keeping the old and building new trails. This was the proposal presented and approved by the City of Boyne City. This was going to be a win-win situation.
Upon approval, TOMMBA began its fundraising efforts. The primary effort was through a state of Michigan program called Public Spaces, Community Places. Sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), the website called Patronicity was used to do crowdfunding. In addition to the money raised by the local community patrons, the state would match each dollar with another dollar from the state up to $50,000. The goal of the campaign was set at $50,000 to raise a total of $100,000.
The MEDC sent a videographer to the trail for an evening and a promotional video was created from film shot during one of the weekly Monday night women’s mountain bike rides. The video and a website were combined and the project launched in late May and lasted for 60 days. Although it was a lot of money to raise, the campaign was extremely successful exceeding the desired $50,000 within just the last few days.
The fundraising included over 225 individual sponsors as well as some larger donations from the community foundation, larger single donors, and other grants. The largest individual donation was $3000 with a matching $3000 donation from their employer. Also, the largest grant received to date to fund this trail project is $25,000. The average donation was over $200.
Trail construction for Phase 1 begins on September 8th of 2016. Phase 1 will include 4 of the 6 planned trails. In the end there will be 2 black diamond, 2 intermediate, and 2 beginner trails built in a stacked loop system. Other improvements such as signage, kiosk at the trailhead, new parking area/trailhead, as well as maps are planned in conjunction with the new trail construction. Phase 1 will cost approximately $150,000 with some possible cost savings depending on the number of volunteers hours during the build process.
Phase 2 will complete two more trails, one black diamond and one beginner trail. Phase 2 will cost approximately $100,000 and will require another fundraising campaign. This second phase will not use crowdfunding since this has already been done for phase 1. This time we are going to focus on grants to local foundations, public recreation money, as well as business donation programs. Grants have already been applied for and more to come.
Boyne City has experienced a great deal of community participation in fundraising for civic projects. There is a real cooperation between government and businesses and community organizations. This trail project will be successful because of the amazing volunteers, generous donors, and enthusiastic community leaders.