The Forestland Group - a company that lays claim to nearly three-million acres of hardwood timberland worldwide - is working towards an agreement with the Sault Ste. Marie Regional Conservation Authority (SSMRCA) to resurrect an old logging access road that runs through the Hiawatha Highlands Conservation Area.
Thursday night’s information session at the civic centre allowed the public an opportunity to look at maps and ask questions about the logging road that The Forestland Group wants in order to gain access to its Duncan Township property for harvesting.
“It goes through the Hiawatha Highlands, but it’s a very small portion of the highlands itself, the rest of the highlands are being left alone,” said SSMRCA general manager Rhonda Bateman. “One of the major considerations that we had to look at for this access was to take the current land users in the area, which are the Voyageur Trail Association and the Sault Trailblazers and the ski club, and consult them to make sure that any access wasn’t going to interfere with the roadway.”
The conservation authority was first approached by The Forestland Group in January 2016, followed by a number of discussions with the Voyageur Trail Association, Sault Trailblazers and the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club over the past two-and-a-half years.
Rob Semczyszyn, a Sault Ste. Marie-based regional manager for Prentiss & Carlisle - a forest resource management group that’s assisting The Forestland Group in managing the Duncan Township property - says there’s still a lot of work to be done on the logging access road after the agreement between The Forestland Group and SSMRCA is finalized.
Prentiss & Carlisle will have to look at its options in terms of where the access road meets water, which will probably result in the installation of bridges and culverts, especially in the Crystal Creek area.
“It’s not only the upgrade of the main road, it’s also the upgrade of the trail system that we need to do,” Semczyszyn told SooToday during the information session. “It depends on the water crossings themselves.”
Bernie Heintzman, who showed up to Thursday’s info session, says that he and his wife frequent Hiawatha Highlands to bike or to go for walks.
“I could see some concerns here,” said Heintzman, who told SooToday that logging trucks and outdoor enthusiasts, whether they’re walking, biking or skiing, don’t necessarily mix.
He also wonders which route logging trucks will take on the way in and out of the access road.
“That’s why I’m interested, just to make sure it’s still there for my grandkids,” he said.
Meanwhile, Garnet Greenwood, a director for the Sault Trailblazers, says that although the snowmobile club would have to drastically alter its trail to accommodate the access road, The Forestland Group would take on the costs associated with relocation of the existing trail.
“Basically, they’re land locked, so this will be the only way that they can get in to harvest timbers and access their private property,” Greenwood said. “This would also give the conservation authority a real usable road.”
Bateman says the old logging access road is currently being unlawfully used by people riding all-terrain vehicles, which could pose a problem once logging trucks frequent those same stretches of roadway.
Improvements to the existing gate system have to be made, she says.
“We know people use it, it’s not sanctioned for that,” Bateman said. “They’re breaking the law when they go in there with their ATVs, so we want to make sure that they’re aware that this is going to be happening so we don’t have any incidents.”
Bateman says that once the road is complete, the conservation authority will also have to look at keeping hikers, skiers and the general public from using the road.
“We know there’s a lot of public access and walking, so we’ll have lots of signage, and it’ll be restricted access, it will be closed,” Bateman said.
The SSMRCA will gauge public feedback from Thursday’s meeting to see if any changes to the proposal are needed.
If changes to the agreement are necessary, Bateman says, the draft will then go back to the SSMRCA board for consideration.