Bessemer businesses worried about snowmobile trail closure
BESSEMER, MI. (KBJR) -- For some people in communities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, snowmobiling can provide much-needed income to keep local businesses afloat.
But a trail in Gogebic County may be closing, leaving two towns without snowmobile access and the revenue it brings this winter.
Snowriver Mountain Resort, formerly known as Big Snow, is pulling trail permits on their property.
That impacts Trail 2, which connects Gogebic County from East to West.
If that section of resort property closes, snowmobilers would have to take a large detour through Vilas County, Wisconsin.
That means the towns of Bessemer and Ironwood, Michigan would no longer be accessible from the east via Upper Peninsula snowmobile trails.
Several Wisconsin towns would also be impacted by the closure.
At the Pit Stop Bar and Grill in Bessemer, winter is a busy time.
“We always end up hiring extra staff for the winter months because of how busy we are,” Rachael Behrendt said.
Behrendt is the manager of the Pit Stop, she says the reason for the busy time, is snowmobiles.
“Usually it’s standing room only when it comes the time, when all the snowmobiles come through,” Behrendt said.
Bessemer is one of many towns on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that relies on snowmobilers to give an economic boost to local businesses.
But that could soon be changing.
“So we were notified September 8th or 9th I believe, that Big Snow Resorts, their new ownership Snowriver, was revoking our trail permits for the upcoming season,” said Steve Hamilton, President of the Gogebic Range Trail Authority.
Hamilton said revoking the trail permits could cut off snowmobile access to Bessemer and nearby towns, and divert traffic through Wisconsin.
According to Hamilton, the money that snowmobilers bring to the area can create a ripple effect throughout the community.
“I often tell people that snowmobiling is the number one turn-key for a rural economy, rural communities like ours,” Hamilton said.
He said snowmobiling is getting bigger every year, especially with the renewed interest in outdoor recreation since the start of the pandemic.
“There’s a 5000 person migration here to the Western U.P. every Thursday and Friday night for snowmobiling on the weekend,” Hamilton said.
The Trail Authority is celebrating 50 years of work in the area and would like it to continue to be a destination for snowmobilers.
A sentiment echoed by Behrendt back at the Pit Stop.
“Everyone seems pretty upset about it and wants something to change,” Behrendt said.
Snowriver Mountain Resort issued a statement last week, explaining why they revoked the permits.
According to that statement, snowmobiling could create safety concerns, and Snowriver is worried about insurance coverage and liability for snowmobilers passing through the resort.
According to leaders with the Trail Authority, they are meeting with a representative from the resort later this week to see if a compromise is possible.
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