Another year to test city’s snowmobile policy

ALPENA – After two winters with little snow in Alpena, the city is going to take a third crack at allowing snowmobile traffic on a designated route through portions of the town.

It has been the city’s goal to encourage riders to utilize the snowmobile route to access local businesses, but Mother Nature hasn’t cooperated. As a result a detailed report about its success, or lack of, has been impossible to craft.

City Engineer Rich Sullenger said after the conclusion of last winter there just wasn’t enough data to present to Alpena Municipal Council to consider making the route permanent, altering it, or discontinue it altogether. He said there was some snowmobile traffic last winter and overall there didn’t seem like there were any glaring issues. He said he hopes this year there will be enough snow to provide riders a chance to use the route SO a better case for or against it can be made.

“We have just had very limited activity. When we did have snow there were people using it, but just not enough to get a fair assessment,” Sullenger said. “I still think it will work. This is still in the infant stage. In other communities that have snowmobile routes they went through the same growing pains as we are.”

One of the growing pains is complaints from residents and riders leaving the route. He said for the most part riders have obeyed the 15 mph speed limit, but some have gone faster as well. He said the police have done a good job of addressing riders who violate the laws and the Alpena Snow Drifters is working on educating snowmobilers about the route.

“The police were very good as far as talking to individuals who varied from the trail and giving them copies of the map,” Sullenger said. “The association has marked the trail, put up stop signs and have been very good to work with. They have been very supportive and help us if we do have issues.”

Sullenger said it is almost impossible to put a number on how many snowmobiles have been on the route the last two winters. He said he keeps an eye on the trail while driving to and from work in the winter and he can get an idea how much traffic there has been based on the trails condition. He said he hopes to be able to give a full report to council this spring if snowfall amounts allow. Sullenger said afterward, with the help of the Snow Drifters, changes to the route can be made which could make it more user, business and public friendly. He said the city already has plans in place that will allow for brief changes to the route for winter related events in town.

“We have already worked with the people organizing the snowcross in Alpena to have a trail that will access the fairgrounds during the weekend of the event,” Sullenger said. “We are working to accommodate other events and activities and we will continue to explore things as we’re approached.”

Sullenger said the trail system around Alpena has come a long way and the addition of the trail head should lure more riders to Alpena. He said he doesn’t expect Alpena to become an established snowmobiling destination overnight.

“It is going to take time to grow,” Sullenger said. “The Northeast State Trail is becoming more popular and hopefully we can build on that. We want to get more snowmobilers, customers and tourists into the community, so they can take advantage of the resources we have here.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at