Took the dog out to the trail to start doing some reconnaissance on conditions yesterday.
Just walked the eastern loop as the snow is too deep to ride still. Snow shoes would have been helpful in most of it but it was a good cardio work out regardless. The parking lot is only half plowed.
Didn't find any trees down or anything that would require major trail work so far on this loop. Its still obvious there was no mowing happening on this loop last year.
I talked to the Ionia Rec Area manager about the trails and the area in general. He said that there had been talk about expanding the MTB trail system at Ionia, but he also said since the MMBA hasn't been able to show they can maintain what they have, that was very unlikely to be approved. I got the feeling it was just talk of expansion and no formal plan has been presented. When dealing with gov't a formal plan is really needed as we've seen with many of the South East trail endeavors (liability, sustainability, etc....see IMBA website).
Walking around on the trail system I see a lot of opportunities to add technical features to Ionia and increase its difficulty. Its really obvious because the snow has pushed much of the grass and brush down and you can see the contours of the land easily.
The manager also expressed his disappointment that he hasn't heard from anybody from the MMBA in about a year, and before that it, almost a year. Says he feels "forgotten" and that it seems nobody knows what to do with Ionia because it has "bounced around between the Central <Mid State> and Western chapters several times".
Last fall I talked to Rick Plite last year (then western chap president) who had contacted the trail coordinator Guy Buckingham. One idea that came out of that discussions was an "adopt a trail" program where individuals (or groups) would adopt a particular section of trail to maintain. Because there is so much grass out there (I tried mowing some of it last year) it takes a long time to get it all done so this might divide and conquer the job. The Ionia manager said they had bought a mower (DR. Self Propelled Weed whip sounded like), for the MMBA to use on the trails. I have talked to others on this forum and have pretty much agreed that at a minimum Ionia needs to be mowed 3 times a year. And that is a serious minimum. Incidentally mowing will keep the ticks off you that I have mentioned in previous posts here, because they like to hang out on tall grass and attach as you go by.
I stopped into Dan's Bike Shop in Ionia to find out what their history of involvement with the Rec Area has been since they are the closest bike shop. Talked to Gary who runs the place now. Apparently his family bought it from Dan...I don't know when. Anyway Gary didn't indicate they had much involvement with maintaining the Rec Area, although he did say when he goes out there, with or without friends he usually takes a saw or something just in case they find something. "Quiet" tools to secretly help maintain the trail. I inquired if he, or the shop, would be interested in any organized maintenance and he seem receptive to it.
If you haven't stopped into Dan's bike shop in Ionia you should. Neat old bike shop with creaky wood floors right on main street. Good people to just talk to.
Anyway now you know what I know. Gary from the bike shop gave me Guy's phone number and I hope to contact him in the next month or so to see if I can help out with the organization of Ionia prior to it overgrowing itself like it did last year. Hopefully I can free up more of my time to help with this as currently I am working out of state three weeks of every month and trying to stay off just unemployment as much as possible. I know a few of you have IM'ed me about maintaining the trails. I'm keeping that in mind and will let you know when I have new info. I haven't given up on Ionia, just am out of state most of the time trying to keep a roof over my head.
FYI: The rails have been removed from the tracks next to the Ionia rec area from Saranac all the way to Ionia and the stones graded out. Plus part of this future rail trail next to the Ionia Rec Area has been adopted by the DNR. There are several places where I see the rail trail already connects to the MTB trail, or could connect. So that could add some distance to the rides this summer. I think eventually the rail trail will be paved but probably a ways off.
Feel free to comment on this here or IM me with your comments so if we do get something going I can get the word out to you....or at least let you know what is going on.