Snowmobile trail busting
in the Boardman River Valley
By Mike Terrell
George VanKersen, one of the volunteer snowmobilers who regularly
helps groom the Boardman Valley Trail, said its time to do a little
trail busting. We left the smoothly-groomed snowmobile trail and
followed him down a sun dappled, untracked two-track and out into an
open meadow in the Pere Marquette State Forest southeast of Traverse
The snow was so deep last winter it almost buried VanKersens sled.
It was light enough on this crisp January morning to form a cloud that
almost covered him. Following closely, all I could see bounding
across the open field was the top of his bright blue helmet.
Running on adrenaline and still feeling the exhilaration of our trail
busting experience, we continued down a narrow, twisting, snake-like
trail along a bluff overlooking the Boardman River and valley. Shafts
of sunlight streaming through the dense forest created a strobe-like
effect as it glistened off the freshly fallen snow covered trees.
Maneuvering around a few large cedar trees we broke out along a
treeless section of bluff. Below the swift-flowing Boardman River
hugged the snowy bluff and an unbroken forest stretched to the
horizon. A couple of startled deer bounded off into the woods, their
white tails waving like flags in the air.
The average snowfall for Traverse City can range from 10 to 12 feet in
depth. Fortunately it doesnt come all at once. Lake Michigan acts
as a gigantic snowmaking machine, and, since the lake hasnt frozen
completely in recent winters, it continues to pump snow into the
region all winter long; normally a real plus for snowmobiling. The
sampling we had just experienced is often available midweek mornings.
It was midweek and not too many downstate and out-of-state snowmobiles
were out. This morning we had the trail to ourselves. Freshly
groomed, the smooth, corduroy highway, as VanKersen called it, was a
delight to ride. Traveling over 80-some miles that bright January
day, we encountered only a handful of other riders.
Weekends are much different, according to the avid snowmobiler.
You are more likely to encounter more snowmobilers out enjoying a
ride on the trail, but even then its large enough to quickly absorb
them. It seldom feels crowded, but to make first tracks midweek,
thats special, he laughed.
Along the way we stopped at the Fife Lake Inn, a popular waterhole
just off the snowmobile trail, for a quick, hearty lunch. Handling a
snowmobile for a few hours will put a rumble in the old tummy, and
thankfully there are a number of good choices along the Boardman
Valley Trail: Gordies, also in Fife Lake; the Kingsley Inn, just a
mile off the trail down a groomed spur; Ranch Rudolf, a western-like
compound located right on the trail and river; and VanKersens popular
Peegeos, located near the High Lake staging area where we started.
TRAILS AROUND TC
The number of stops along the trail system is one of the reasons you
are seeing more families out using the trails around Traverse City,
VanKersen pointed out.
You know what its like traveling with kids. If you cant make
frequent stops its often not a pleasant experience, and snowmobiling
is no different. Unlike riding in the UP and Canada, where you can go
50 to 100 miles between towns and stops, you are always within 15
miles or less of a potential cozy rest stop along the 81-mile Boardman
Ive seen the family snowmobile market really grow in the last few
years. We serve more pop on winter weekends than beer in the
restaurant. Maybe it used to be the Hells Angels of winter on
snowmobiles in the old days, but that image has changed. Its a
family market now; especially around the Traverse City area where you
have so many activities to choose from.
You can ride hundreds of miles if thats your desire. Snowmobiling
doesnt get much better than around the Grand Traverse Region with its
links to other state trails, he concluded.