Trail lovers across America envy the thousands of miles of trails that Michiganders have to explore right in their own backyard. What many folks may not realize is the enormous transformation that many of these trails undergo once the snows of winter engulf the state.
Winter is not just a passing storm to Michiganders, it is a welcomed season which provides good snow cover for a myriad of winter sports. For many who have lived in the north (me, I'm from Alaska originally), this means snowmobiling season, and snowmobiling is serious business in Michigan. Snowmobilers come from all over north America because Michigan boasts some of the best riding there is.
Rail-trails played a huge part in establishing that reputation. Michigan has a rail-trail network that crisscrosses the state and allow snowmobilers to ride for hundreds of miles into some of the most remote, and beautiful, public lands in America.
This experience brings in more than just big fun, but big financial returns to many Michigan communities as well. Back in 1998, Michigan State University conducted an assessment of snowmobiling's impact on the state and found that it resulted in $1 billion in economic activity annually and supported more than 6,455 full-time jobs. 15 years later, that figure will have only risen.
I have friends who own weekend cabins in Michigan solely for the purpose of indulging their snowmobiling passion. Many cities, towns and villages in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas count on the winter snowmobile scene to sustain their bed & breakfasts, hotels, restaurants, taverns, gas stations, outdoor gear suppliers and guides.
On the other side of the ledger, the snowmobilers themselves deserve credit for taking "ownership" of the trails, in much the same way friends groups and volunteer organizations do for hiking and biking trails. Enthusiasts are well-organized, and conduct much of the trail maintenance work themselves through various clubs around the state. These activities are funded through trail permit fees, snowmobile registration fees and a small percentage of off-road gas tax money.
The Michigan Snowmobile Association is a one stop shop for snowmobile users looking to ride or get involved in helping with the trails. Michigan snowmobile trails are opened from December 1 through March 31 every year. If you are looking for a trail experience unlike any other, perhaps a winter visit to our friends in Michigan, and a few hundred miles on a snowmobile through picturesque towns and countryside, is just the ticket.