Sunday, January 20, 2013

Skijoring in Iron County Michigan and the Keweenaw: ABR Trails, the Mecca Ski Club and the KNSC Maasta Hiihto & Churning Rapids trails

Iron County falls within Lake Superior's snowbelt; once a reliable snow source. It's not what it once was, but when we visited it was working. The ABR Trails were excellent, though a week ago they'd been lousy.

There are at least two significant dog-friendly ski trails in Iron County, and a couple further west.

The ABR Trails are a commercial system about four miles south of Ironwood. The 70K+ trail system includes about 6 k of dog trails - Rascals Revenge, Spanky's Spill and Rudy's Shoot. We did them with our 3 kids and Kateva. The trails are labeled as “Expert", I'd call them "Eastern Intermediate". They are fully groomed for classic and skating. ABR charges $12 an adult, no fee for dogs.

The SkiMECCA trails is about 30 min south of Ironwood:

The MECCA Cross-Country Ski Trails are located in the town of Mercer, Wisconsin.  They run across a combination of State, County, Town, and private lands.  There are approximately 18 Km of trails groomed for classic and/or skate skiing.  Trails are groomed by volunteers, as conditions allow.  Hiking, snowshoeing, and dogs are allowed only on the untracked portions of the trails...

… The daily trail-use donation suggestions are $8 per adult, $5 per child, $1 per dog, or $20 for however many people you have in your car.

From the trail map I see that "untracked" means ungroomed or groomed for skating. That's quite a bit of this club maintained trail system.

Iron County has several other trails that may allow dogs. Twenty five years ago Porcupine State Park tolerated dogs on many trails, though that may have changed. The Uller and Montreal trails are remote and local practice may or may not allow dogs -- I haven't inquired.

Two hours further west in the Keeweenaw Swedetown does not allow any skijoring -- even on snowshoe trails. Happily, a reliable local source tells me dogs are toleratored or welcome on many Maasto Hiihto trails. The joy of these systems is that they welcome snowshoeing alongside the tracks, and apparently dogs fall into the same category:

Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club (KNSC)

Maasto Hiihto, which means “cross country skiing” in Finnish, is a striding-only trail system that offers kilometer after kilometer of unsurpassed skiing on varied and scenic trails. The trail system connects with the Churning Rapids trails. The two systems contain about 25 kilometers of groomed trails (see the trail map for details)

Snowshoeing is encouraged; there are many single track trails to follow, or on the side of the ski trails, as long as snowshoes do not step on set ski tracks.

The scenery on these trails is exceptionally varied and often breathtaking. Highlights include vistas of Portage Lake, Ruby Marsh, Swedetown Creek, mature forests, and pleasant meadows.

Two trailheads provide access to Maasto Hiihto: one at the Chalet on the Houghton County fairgrounds, and the other at Tomasi Road near the Hancock city garage, north of Portage Health.

The noble KNSC periodically hosts a moonlight ski and bonfire starting at the Thomasi trail head and going to the "triangle," for a fire and roasted weenies. This is a 1st class organization! We haven't made it there yet but it's on our radar.

Update 1/21/2013:

The Wolverine Ski Club maintains a trail system that can be joined at the top of the Powderhorn Alpine resort or from parking near Ironwood.  A club spokesman tells me skijoring is fine on the snowshoe trail and “skijoring wouldn’t work on the Wolverine Trails during the popular times of day, but all of them are suitable during off peak hours, ie early morning or after 4 most days.".

Update 12/30/2015: More on Churning Rapids, Maasto Hiihto

This year my family is planning a late January visit to the Keweenaw. In the post-snow era it may be our last best hope for Nordic skiing.

Since I first published this post there’s now a dog-friendly segment of the Swedetown trails, but more importantly the very extensive, single track only, Churning Rapids, Maasto Hiihto are all open to dogs. Here’s the word on CR/MH from an insider, edited slightly. He was responding to my questions, but you can pretty much guess the questions from the responses so I’ll omit them:

1. Dogs are welcome at MH/CR, in harness, on lead, or free roaming but in control. Dog tracks in ski tracks are inevitable, go to a no-dogs trail if you can't handle it  
2. Poop tossed in woods is fine  
3. Dog etiquette - snarly dogs not appreciated  
4. Christensen trail head has plowed parking for 3-4 cars but better roads to Tomasi or Chalet trailheads and loads of plowed parking and probably less drive time.  
5. 4WD not need at parking lots as they are flat

He added some comments about other trails nearby:

6. MTU has one 1.5K wide ski trail great for ski-joring and another 7K of nice but not challenging single track where dogs are allowed. Tech posts that dogs must be leashed and I have occasionally seen a dog or two leashed. Foot traffic is allowed on those trails also but does not create any problem.
7. Last winter Swedetown's dog trail was terrible and short. I've been told it will improve this year; we'll see.
8. CR has some bc skiing, especially the bike trails but they aren't marked for winter use (ie infrequent trail blazes/markers if any except at intersections) and can be a challenge but I say go for it - you'll never get lost, just turn around and follow your trail back to the van (don't get lost in a storm, this doesn't work)  
9. Not sure about Copper Harbor trails and dogs  
10. Eagle Harbor has some nice trails and say nothing about dogs in the past. I take my dog on them as does a friend.

I’m quite excited about this trip. We’ll be making a generous donation at the trailhead of course.

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