Rock Solid Founder Already Building New Trails on His Own 524-Acre Parcel
COPPER HARBOR, MI – Nobody ever accused Aaron Rogers of thinking small.
The nation’s largest trailbuilding contractor on Tuesday night unveiled an ambitious plan to acquire up 30,000 acres in northeastern Keweenaw County and develop it for mountain biking trails and several other forms of active recreation.
EDIT 10/17: The coalition that brought the plan forward includes Aaron Rogers and his Rock Solid Trail Contracting partners, Sam Raymond and the Keweenaw Adventure Company, the Copper Harbor Trails Club, Grant Township, Keweenaw County and the Keweenaw ATV Club, Rogers said. In a follow-up interview, Rogers added that hunters and fisherman would of course be welcome to continue using the lands, provided, of course, that it can be secured for public use.
An invited crowd of more than 50 local stakeholders gathered at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge to hear the first public presentation of a plan for what is being called the “Keweenaw Landscape Park.” Covering most of the eastern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the plan would knit together existing trails, public lands and conservancy areas with large new land acquisitions to create a massive public playground with infrastructure for mountain bikers, hikers, cross country skiers, ATV riders, snowmobilers and boaters.
Initial reaction was largely positive to the vision, with several locals expressing support for the idea that the Keweenaw Peninsula is a unique landscape and should remain accessible for public use. As the land is currently for sale, there’s the danger that private interests could buy it up and tie it up, blocking locals from a resource they currently use.
The largest landholder in the area, logging company TRG has said it wants to divest from the area and recently revived a discussion with the State of Michigan about a value-for-value swap on its acreage that would make much of the area in question state park land. The current asking value of the property is about $1,100 per acre.
One component of the plan is already underway.
With partners, Rogers bought and has already begun building trails on 524 acres east of Copper Harbor which he’s calling East Bluff Bike Park. Plans for Rogers’ own property also include trailside accommodations for riders, with the first round of development including 100 rustic campsites and a first phase of 25 cabins with an average capacity of 6 people.
“We’re going to see how successful that is and how desirable that is for the people coming up here, and we can expand upon that,” he said in an interview Monday, “because there’s obviously a lot of space there.”
When fully implemented, East Bluff Bike Park would add 40 new miles of biking trails to the existing 35 miles in and around Copper Harbor, which have become a lifeline and a centerpiece for local tourism.
They’ve also become an annoyance for some locals, as mountain bikers cluster in large groups around the trailhead near the Visitor Center and in the center of town where the Keweenaw Adventure Company Shuttle departs, a point Rogers acknowledged Tuesday night and in an interview on Monday.
Rogers said the hope is developing more trails east of town will help draw bikers out of the center of town, decreasing congestion both on the highways and on the trails themselves. When the trails are clogged with riders, that can lead to people having to frequently stop or ride slower than they would like, diminishing the user experience. Furthermore, the new trails would include more beginner and intermediate trails, he said, leaving the black diamond trails to more experienced riders who can take them at the pace they were intended.
Among the concerns expressed Tuesday night were questions about impacts an influx of new users would have given that sensitive areas like High Rock Bay are already seeing degradation due to a lack of toilets and trash receptacles.
Another resident brought up the prospect that adding multiple new trails in what’s now wilderness area would create corridors for invasive plant species to come in on bike and ATV tires and hiking boots.
But the most prolonged discussion was around how it would be funded. Some residents said it would be more fair to charge tourists user fees to fund the plans rather than raising property taxes on local residents, many of whom are on fixed incomes and would not benefit directly from the new trails.
Rogers told those assembled that established national precedent is that bike riders don’t pay fees for using trails. Bike manufacturers like Trek, which have already seen Rogers’ plans on multiple occasions, he said, may be willing to contribute grants to the development of the park.
But getting the State of Michigan to buy or trade land for the TRG property is probably the only feasible solution for acquiring the property in the near term, Rogers said.
At the end of the meeting, Rogers said that one or more working groups will be formed to try to move the plans forward and work with stakeholders to resolve concerns and incorporate additional input.