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Nordic Weekend Get-away
Suffering from cabin fever? Need a winter get-away? This issue of Trail Mix focuses on Michigan’s newest trail, Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, that is being groomed for cross-country skiers. Add another great ski trail in the area such as Alligator Hill or the VASA and you have a full weekend of skiing along with the best room rates you’ll see all year in Traverse City. Check out MichiganTrailMaps.com Nordic section for other great trail ideas.
Need a summer adventure? Jim DuFresne will be speaking about great outdoor adventures in Michigan’s national parks at the Cottage & Lakefront Living Show/Outdoorma Nov. 21-24 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Jim will also be speaking about Isle Royale National Park at the 18th annual Quiet Water Symposium on Saturday, March 2 at 11:15 a.m. at the Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture Education (Farm Lane, south of Mt Hope Road) on the campus of MSU.
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
By Jim DuFresne
Pulling into the Dune Climb parking lot for my first outing on the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, the sign that greeted me read “Danger Avalanche Area” in big red letters. The next sign read “Hunting In Season! Wear Bright Colors.”
I just started skiing the trail when I realized so many cougar sightings have occurred in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that the National Park Service also posted “You Are A Visitor In Cougar Habitat” signs at various trailheads.
Cougars, hunters and avalanches! Oh my!
Not to worry. The biggest danger on this trail is not taking the time to enjoy it. In a park that already boasts the best day hiking in the Lower Peninsula, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a worthy addition.
The seed for the Heritage Trail was planted in 2005 when the Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route Committee suggested the idea to the National Park Service. It was pointed out that while the park had more than 100 miles of hiking trails and even 9 miles of equestrian trails, it had none that were paved and suitable for recreational use by cyclists, wheelchair users, baby strollers and rollerbladers.
After years of reports, studies and environmental assessments, a 27-mile, hard-surfaced trail through the Lakeshore was on the drawing board, extending from Good Harbor Bay southwest past Empire and paralleling M-22 and M-109 for much of the way.
The Heritage Trail is being developed in segments, a $5 million project that will require 10 years to complete. For the most part, the trail will be built over old logging roads, abandoned railroads and existing trails to keep forest disruption to a minimum. Where the trail runs though the villages of Glen Arbor and Empire, users will divert to low-traffic roads, on routes approved by village councils.
But why wait? The first section has already opened to rave reviews — it’s hard to image a more scenic stretch of this route.
Dedicated last June, the 4.6-mile trail is anchored by charming Glen Arbor and the Dune Climb. In between it passes views of Lake Michigan, towering dunes and the century-old storefronts of historic Glen Haven. Best of all, most of the route stays away from M-22 and M-109, busy roads in the summer.
Almost as soon as they cut the ribbon for this segment of trail, summer visitors and locals flocked to it. And they still are. Last fall, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes announced it had obtained grooming equipment and its volunteers are grooming the new trail classic skiers, skaters and snowshoers.
Click on the map to the right to view a larger version or print.
The most impressive terrain along the Heritage Trail is seen from the Dune Climb trailhead. The trail immediately heads north from the popular day-use area with a forest on one side and a towering dune on the other, a dune so steep that occasionally small avalanches rumble down it.
For all the change in elevation that surrounding the trail, it is an amazingly level and easy ski. After passing the Group Campground, skiers re-enter the woods and make a mild climb to reach the marked end of Dunes Valley Road at Mile 1.3. At this point the trail moves into a semi-open meadow and begins a long gentle downhill run.
Just past the Mile 2 post skiers enter historic Glen Haven and cross M-209. Founded in 1857 when a sawmill and an inn on the beach was built, Glen Haven peaked in 1881 when the village had 11 buildings including the inn, a store, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, and school. Steamship service continued to Glen Haven until the late 1920s when the Great Depression facilitated the end of the village’s maritime role as a port, including its massive dock.
The most distinctive building seen from the trail is the bright red Glen Haven Canning Company. Established in the early 1920s, it is now a seasonal museum maintained by the National Park Service.
Within a third of a mile from Glen Haven, Heritage Trail enters D.H. Day Campground and then reaches M-109 at Mile 2.7. After crossing the busy state highway, the trail continues in the woods on the other side. Though the trail is skirting Alligator Hill at this point, it remains an easy ski, reaching Forest Haven Drive at Mile 4.3. A quarter mile before reaching the road are several beech tree benches, the result of a Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes trail crew cleverly using chainsaws to turn a fallen tree into a place to sit and rest.
The trail follows Forest Haven Drive south for a third of a mile to a parking area and trailhead that also serves a spur leading to the Alligator Hill Trail system. Nearby is M-22 that leads north to the business district of Glen Arbor.
In the winter there are vault toilets at the Dune Climb. The rest of the year restrooms and drinking water are found at the Dune Climb, Group Campground, Glen Haven and D.H. Day Campground.
The main trailheads for this segment of the Heritage Trail are the Dune Climb on M-109, 6 miles north, of Empire, Glen Haven Historic Village on M-209 and at the south end of Forest Haven Drive just west of M-22 in Glen Arbor.
The best information is available from the Sleeping Bear Heritage trail website. You can also contact Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (231-326-5134) or TART Trails (231-941-4300).