‘North Ed’ Career Tech students build DNR trail gates,

Older man in jeans and work apron stands with three young men in baseball caps, jeans, T-shirts and safety glasses, with a large orange gateStudents at the Northwest Education Services Career Tech Welding Program on Parsons Road in Traverse City closed out their school year with a successful project for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that will help keep North Central State Trail users safe.

The students took on the task of building specialized rail-trail gates for segments of the trail in Otsego County. The gates are designed to allow nonmotorized users (people on foot, bicycles or horses) to pass through a small gap in the center, while preventing illegal off-road vehicle traffic. In the winter, the gates are fully opened to allow snowmobile and groomer traffic to pass unimpeded.

The challenge

In collaboration with Lake State Railway and several state, county and local partnerships, the DNR in 2019 extended the North Central Trail (part of Michigan’s Detroit-to-Ironwood Iron Belle Trail) into Otsego County.

The trail, running 75 miles from the Otsego/Crawford county line to Mackinaw City within an active railroad corridor, is open to nonmotorized traffic such as walking, biking and horseback riding in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter. Its hard-packed limestone surface is specifically chosen for durability and performance in either service, but was not designed or intended for use by off-road vehicles.

Paige Perry, a recreation trails specialist with the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, said that shortly after the trail’s completion, several people owned property adjacent to the trail began reporting increased illegal traffic on their property.

“This repeated trespassing put miles of connected, snowmobile-only trail in jeopardy, because it caused private landowners to reconsider their land leases, jeopardized the safety of trail users and seriously damaged the trail surface,” Perry said. “We were committed to resolving the problem in the safest, fastest possible way.”

The solution

The DNR has an established partnership with Onaway’s Industrial Arts Institute to build a supply of gates for other areas of the North Central, North Eastern and North Western state rail trails – areas that had undergone similar trespass and damage challenges.

The program’s aim was to replace existing, aging trail bollards – those slender, upright poles usually placed in the center of trails to limit vehicle access – with a new gate design that improved on the bollards. With gates from the institute already committed to replacing bollards, the DNR saw an opportunity to partner with Northwest Education Services (“North Ed”) Career Tech, a career and technical education school serving more than 20 high schools and over 1,100 juniors and seniors in the five-county Grand Traverse area, to meet emerging needs in and around the city of Gaylord.

“We reached out to North Ed to talk about our needs, and North Ed welding and fabrication technology instructor Mark Stein, who talked it over with his students,” said Scott Thompson, a forest fire officer who works out of the DNR’s Gaylord field office. “The welding program offered to build small batches of gates on a compressed time frame, with the same design.”

The state’s ORV Trail Improvement Fund paid for the raw materials, and the students got to work.

Thompson said the project provided opportunities for students to learn about design, layout, fabrication and welding, paired with the satisfaction of helping to solve a community problem. With Stein’s guidance, the students completed the work during the last few days of the school year and ultimately delivering high-quality gates on time.

The gates will be installed this summer at a busy intersection, courtesy of additional partnerships between the DNR and the Gaylord Area Trails Council. As needs arise, the DNR will order additional gate sets from North Ed for installation.

Northwest Education Services Career Tech offers training in 23 career fields utilizing the latest technology and state-of-the-art equipment. North Ed Career Tech and regional schools share great pride in preparing students for immediate job placement, postsecondary education or military service. Learn more at northwested.org/career_tech/.

More about Michigan’s trails

For information on recreational trail opportunities throughout the state, visit Michigan.gov/DNRTrails.

The DNR continues to seek community support for the diverse trails network in Michigan. Anyone interested in partnering to support these important recreation resources is encouraged to contact Michelle O’Kelly at [email protected]. Additionally, you can text “trails” to 80888 or bookmark https://app.mobilecause.com/form/SOI3Zg?vid=qyibf to donate at any time throughout the year. Choose to support the area of greatest need or give to projects that suit your passions such as ORV, water trails, equestrian, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and others.

Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

  • Welding: A Northwest Education Services Career Tech Welding Program student works on one of the trail gates to be installed along the North Central State Trail in Otsego County.
  • Stein, students with gate: Northwest Education Services Career Tech Welding Program instructor Mark Stein, far right, stands with some of his welding students in front of one of the finished DNR trail gates.
  • Gates example: A set of previously installed gates, similar to what will be installed along the North Central State Trail in Otsego County.