The regular board meeting of the Barry County Road Commission Tuesday morning drew an overflow crowd. Several who were denied admittance because of the fire marshal’s limit of 30 people in the room, stood in the commission office area, trying to hear.
The thing that drew them was the question: Who has ownership and is responsible for the trails in the Barry and Middleville State Game Areas?
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources would like it to be them.
In an April 14 letter to the Barry County Road Commission, the DNR asked that the commission abandon portions of 16 trails/roads. “Future decision making authority and maintenance responsibility on stretches of these roads, that are void of houses or public lake access, would be best handled by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR),” it read.
They asked for abandonment of parts of 16 roads/trails, “so that future decision making and road maintenance can be handled by the MDNR.”
The question remained unanswered with the road commission committing to find out which trails have been decertified or abandoned, which ones belong to them and which ones never did.
Sara Thompson, district biologist with DNR, agreed. “Since no one is clear on jurisdiction, we should get it cleared it up once and for all.”
Chairman Frank Fiala said the road commission staff will examine its maps, but the commission does not have the legal expertise to decide the jurisdictions involved and abandonment of roads requires a formal process including public hearings.
A map developed for the discussion has trails marked that are in question, others that have been abandoned and a few that no one can even verify are trails. Although not a public hearing, Fiala allowed comments from the audience. While listening to comments, the commissioners voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the issue and in a larger venue before they take any action on the DNR’s request.
Most of the speakers said they were concerned that if the DNR was given control of the trails, they would be closed and the public would lose, or have limited access to, places they have use for recreation and outdoor activities, some for many years.//
One complained that the trails have not been maintained, and one case, blocked off by two large tree stumps to prevent access.
Another asked who was putting boulders in the trails; “Someone has to be accountable,” he said. If they are ordered by the state to close or maintain trails, they should be able to send the bill to Lansing for payment under the Headlee Amendment one said. Still another said they should let the erosion happen and let the Cadillac people stay home and leave it to people with the proper equipment to use the trails.
Thompson said the public may confuse the Barry State Game Area with the Yankee Springs Recreation Area, an adjacent, much smaller area that is devoted to people recreation. The state game area’s focus. Its funding comes from the federal and matching state funds; if a specific group activity is allowed by the DNR to come into the state game area without a special permit, federal funding to the whole state would be lost, she said.
Each request for a permit is on a case-by-case basis, with accompanying proof that it would not harm the original intent of benefitting hunters and wildlife habitat, she said.
An example is an equestrian group that has an approved permit; they groom and maintain their trail in the game area and are monitored by the DNR.
Thompson put out a sign up sheet for those interested so she could contact them. “I can’t work with you, if I can’t reach you,” she said.
Since people had heard that the meeting would be held at different times, the board went through its questions to the DNR at its regular board meeting and then a second time for those who missed any part of the first meeting.
The trails and roads identified by the DNR includes parts of 10 trails and six roads.
TRAILS in Barry State Game Area:
Upton-from Kiser Road east to Yankee Springs Road
Shooting Range-from Yankee Springs Road east to the dead end
Bassett Lake-from West M-179 south then east to Deep Lake Road
Hart –from South Yankee Springs Road east to South Whitmore Road
Peets-from South Peets Road south to Hart Trail
Fire Tower-from Hart Trail, southeast to Gun Lake Trail
Metz-from West M-179 east to South Peets Road
County Farm-from South Peets Road east to South Whitmore Road
Sager- from McKibben Road east to South Whitmore Road
Shaw-from Gun Lake Road south to private residence just north of West Shaw Road.
ROADS in the Barry State Game Area:
South Peets- from West M-179 south to Peets Trail
Otis Lake-from Gun Lake Road south to Sager Road.
ROADS in the Middleville State Game Area:
Parmalee-decertified portion that lies east of Solomon Road then east to Wood School Road
Loftus-decertified portion east of Solomon Road beginning where both sides are state land, then east to the end of the decertified portion (at section 9 line)
Solomon-decertified portion from Eckert Road north to the county line (108th Street)
Johnson-decertified portion from Garbow Road north to dead end.