Future SSM hosted a public information session on the proposed Farmer Lake Mountain Bike Trail Network Thursday night, bringing in members of the public to city hall.
If approved by the Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority (SSMRCA), work on the 15-kilometre network of single-track, multi-use trails in Hiawatha Highlands could begin as early as this spring.
“I think it’s good,” said Future SSM Project Manager Travis Anderson when asked by Sootoday about the turnout to Thursday night’s public meeting. “I mean, it definitely shows a lot of support for what we’re trying to do here.”
“I think people in the community are really hungry for more quality of life experiences here,” he continued. “We’ve got great assets - a lot of the reason why people live here is because of the outdoor experiences, so we’re just hoping to build on that, and it’s great to see the turnout to support it.”
It’s hoped the proposed trail network - the result of a partnership between Future SSM, Sault Cycling Club and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie - will provide an economic boost locally.
In a pitch to SSMRCA board members Tuesday, Anderson told the conservation board that similar bike trail networks in Michigan have brought in thousands of people annually.
The city of Marquette, Mich. was used as an example during that pitch.
“They have year-round trails there, because they do a lot of grooming in the winter for fat biking, and they’re seeing close to 35,000 visitors annually for mountain biking,” Anderson said.
Local mountain biker Ben Davey is one of those cycling enthusiasts who travels to Marquette and Copper Harbor, Mich. at least once a year, using networks of cycling trails in those areas during weekend getaways.
Davey told SooToday during the public information session that the proposed trail network makes sense for cycling enthusiasts.
“It’s a large expansion and it’s a little bit different terrain, so it’s just going to make for more variety,” Davey said.
“We need it,” Brian Morin told SooToday. “Marquette attracts thousands of people every year, and Traverse City, Harbor Springs, Petoskey - it brings lots of tourist dollars to those areas, lots of events, lots of people have a good time and we have the infrastructure here to have a trail network that could rival - or surpass- any of those.”
Anderson told SSMRCA board members that on average, cycling enthusiasts make more money - and, subsequently, spend more money when they travel for cycling adventures.
“They’re active all day - they like to come into a community and they like to eat, drink beer, stay in a decent hotel,” said Anderson. “So overall, a generally very good clientele to go after when you’re developing a tourism strategy.”
Future SSM has already been in talks with Crank The Shield organizer and Superfly Racing President Sean Ruppel about having a part of the cycling race on the proposed trail network.
That’s why the partnership behind the Farmer Lake Mountain Bike Trail Network would like to have some, if not all, of the trail network completed in time for the event.
The first portion of the network would be constructed solely by volunteers, with the second and third stages constructed by professional trail builders.
Anderson says that single-track, multi-use trails usually cost anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 per kilometre to construct.
“We’d get the funding to bring a professional group in that can dedicate their own time to it, just expedite the process,” said Anderson. “Ideally, we’d like to have these trails in place this year.”
“Without that funding, they may not be available until November or potentially even next spring, so the funding would allow us to get them professionally built - get a crew in here that would expedite that process, and probably have them in place for Crank The Shield for this year, so it’s important for us.”
SSMRCA has yet to approve the use of Hiawatha Highlands for the trail network.