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One Man’s Love for a Nordic Ski Trail

Posted on November 22nd, 2016

Love that trail you’re skiing? There’s a very good chance volunteers made it possible. At Loud Creek Ski Trail in the Huron National Forest it was one man who for almost 30 years was responsible for the excellent trail system near Mio. In this MichiganTrailMaps.com Trail Talk blog, Jim DuFresne writes about Lyle Kline and why we need more volunteers like him.

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By Jim DuFresne

Sometimes timing is everything in cross-country skiing.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

The night before my first visit to Loud Creek Ski Trail a snowstorm swept across northern Michigan leaving behind a half foot of fresh powder. When I was less than 15 minutes from the trailhead, the sun broke out, making the snow appear as if it was sprinkled with diamonds.

And when I arrived at the trailhead, Lyle Kline, president of the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club, had just finished grooming the trails. As the first skier on just-groomed tracks, I flew through the woods with ease.

But the best part of the afternoon was the fact that the 7.5 miles of trails were practically all mine. I encounter only two other skiers and Lyle. Not a bad day of skiing.

For many of us it’s the perfect Nordic experience; well groomed trails in a scenic wooded area where you’ll often see more whitetails than skiers. The key to enjoying such a day is knowing Loud Creek is there, half-hidden in the Huron National Forest, 2 miles southeast of Mio.

“We don’t market it and it’s kind of tucked away,” A ranger from the U.S. Forest Service office in Mio once told me. “Ten or 15 skiers would be a busy day out there.”

Lyle Kline of the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club and the club's 25-year-old groomer.

Lyle Kline of the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club and the club’s 25-year-old groomer.

Loud Creek dates back to 1984 when Kline first scouted the area and knew immediately that the wooded hills, creeks and beaver ponds was an ideal setting for ski trails. He began lobbying folks at the Mio Ranger District office, trying to get them to do more in the winter than just carter to the snowmobilers.

Four years later the U.S. Forest Service agreed to help develop the area if locals formed a club to purchase a groomer and maintain the trails. Lyle recruited his fellow skiers and the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club was born. The club arranged a loan for $7,500, purchased a used Bombardier groomer and then staged bake sales, ski races and other fund raising events until it was paid off.

This type of community support for a trail is nothing new. What was unique about the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club was its size. It was tiny. Early on the club might have had 30 to 40 members but by the time I met Lyle in 2004 club membership was down to the single digits. In subsequent articles I wrote Loud Creek was Michigan’s best Nordic area managed by so few.

Eventually the club went full circle. The man who started it became the sole member at the end.

“It boiled down to; I was the club,” Lyle said. “I’d find a couple friends to go out in the fall and help me with the chainsaw work needed to open the trails and in the winter I groomed them.”

The old donation pipe at the Loud Creek Ski Trail in the Huron National Forest.

The old donation pipe at the Loud Creek Ski Trail in the Huron National Forest.

In 2014, after devoting 30 years and countless hours – all of them as an unpaid volunteer –  to maintaining this ski trail for the rest of us to enjoy, Lyle stepped away. The Mio Ranger District has since taken over maintenance and in the winter tries to groom it as often as there is staff available. But grooming ski trails is not a high priority and the U.S. Forest Service will never be able to match the frequency and meticulous care that was the trademark of Lyle and Loud Creek Ski Trail.

“Well I turned 70 this year so I guess it was time to move on,” Lyle said. “I definitely had apprehensions about (the Forest Service taking it over).”

The lesson here isn’t that Michigan is blessed with numerous opportunities for cross-country skiing, many you might not even know about. The lesson here, I suspect, is most people don’t realize how dependent our trail systems are on volunteers.

The North Country Trail Association reported that this year 1,343 volunteers donated 69,708 hours in maintaining or building the country’s longest trail. The value of those hours in the private sector would have topped $1.6 million. But of course none of them were paid.

It’s just not volunteer hours that trail systems need to survive. They also need donations and contributions.  At Loud Creek, Lyle and the handful of members erected a donation canister at the trailhead that looked like the trunk of a tree. On top of it was a sign pleading with anybody stepping into their skis “Donation Please!”

Lyle thinks one winter they might have collected $1,200 but most years it was $800 or even less. Tough to repair that 30-year-groomer or purchase a new roller when so many skiers never pause at the donation tree.

“Well I guess locals assumed it’s here, it’s ours and we don’t need to pay,” said Lyle. “But it’s a shame for anybody not to drop $5 in the canister at their favorite trail much less give up a Saturday to help maintain it.”

This is the giving season, a time when many of us donate to our favorite causes if for no other reason than to get another tax deduction.

In the next month, seriously consider the trails you love and give to the organizations who work so tirelessly to ensure they are there and open when you show up with your hiking boots, skis, baby stroller or mountain bike.

Organizations like TART Trails, Top of Michigan Trail Council , North Country Trail Association, West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Michigan Mountain Biking Association …

The list is almost endless so the need is great. Please give.

If we don’t all pitch in then it’s possible we’ll lose our trails because there are only so many Lyles in this world.

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