Windwalker in a section of land in East Bay Township, not far from Timber Ridge Resort. This land is marked for logging. (Photos by Patrick Sullivan)
Jenevive Windwalker in a section of land near the VASA trail that has recently been logged.
Some neighbors near the VASA trail are worried the state is stepping up timber harvests in the area and encroaching on the beloved skiing and cycling trail.
They point to a piece of land cleared near the Supply Road parking lot for the 50K loop and a compartment mark for logging between the trail and a nearby neighborhood.
“This is not a forest anymore. It won’t be a forest for the rest of my lifetime,” said Jenevive Windwalker, a neighbor who has grown concerned about logging, as she walked through a recently logged section of woods near the 50K loop parking lot.
Windwalker lives nearby, off Rasho Road, and like thousands of others, uses the state forest land near her house for mountain biking, hiking and skiing.
She’s lived there for 14 years, but she says it is logging activity in the past year or so that has caused her to take action.
Windwalker wants to stop some of the logging and she recently canvassed area neighborhoods in an effort to organize opposition to logging efforts that get too close to the VASA trail and recreation areas.
She said she recently went door-to-door in a neighborhood near Timber Ridge Resort and found that most people shared her concern about the logging.
NO LOGGING RIGHT NOW
Pat Ruppen, a Department of Natural Resources Forester, said there is no logging going on right now and the department works closely with the VASA and TART Trails to manage the adjacent forest in a way that is beneficial to recreation users.
“We have a really good relationship with the VASA,” Ruppen said. “We talk about everything. We go out on site and we work with them.”
He said residents of a neighborhood are upset about a compartment of land slated to be cut which is not adjacent to the VASA.
“I think they’re using the VASA banner to try to get attention to this subdvision issue,” he said.
Ruppen said foresters determine how to manage a particular piece of land depending on many factors. He says forests often need to be managed to regenerate tree stands or to control tree diseases like oak welt, Dutch elm, or beech bark disease.
In the case of the VASA, there are some aspen stands adjacent to the trail that need to be managed and cut because those trees have short life spans and pose a danger to the trail, Ruppen said.
He said concern about a recent escalation in logging, particularly under the Snyder administration, is misplaced. The decisions made in East Bay Township around the VASA trail were made in 2008 before Snyder took office.
“We would have done most of the work in 2009, but we spread this out,” Ruppen said. He said the work was spread out over 10 years out of consideration to the trails.
MARKED TO BE CUT
On a foot path that begins where Roselawn Drive ends, Windwalker points to the section of trees she is worried about. She said the forest is used by area residents for recreation and as a pathway to the VASA trails.
She walked out to the point where private land turns to state land and where another section of trees is slated for removal.
Property lines are marked and the trees that are supposed to remain have been marked in blue.
“Most of it, if not all of it, is marked to be cut,” she said. “I feel like we’re running out of time.”
In another part of the forest that has been recently cut, Windwallker said she believes the forest that will eventually grow back is inferior to the older growth forest that was destroyed.
“This is just scrap and the stuff that grows up is junk. They’re not leaving healthy, solid trees to mature,” Windwalker said.
She said the loss of forest land hurts her personally.“It changes the esthetics from heavily wooded forest areas to more open savannah areas,” Tarnow said. But “the underbrush grows very quickly in open areas and after a couple of years it fills in.” ~Michael Tarnow
“For me, it’s like being in the forest is where I go to relieve my stress.”
MORE LOGGING EXPECTED
Just as some observers are concerned about logging on state land south of TC, the Snyder administration announced plans to more aggressively target timber as a natural resource that can bolster the state’s economy.
A 10-member “timber advisory council” under the DNR is heavily weighted in favor of the timber industry, according to a recent press release. The DNR announced the council Dec. 6 and noted that of the 10 members, eight come from the industry.
Greg Reisig, chairman of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, said his organization is worried about the aggressive stance taken by the DNR in Michigan’s forests.
“NMEAC is also concerned about excessive cutting on state land, we have had some calls in the past on this,” Reisig said.
He said the state should do a better job of factoring the cost of losing diverse forest lands when they calculate the economic benefits of logging.
“We had heard that (DNR Director) Rodney Stokes had indicated that he wanted more cutting,” Reisig said. “We’re somewhat concerned about that, because the DNR is also supposed to be in charge of natural resource protection and we would hate to see more forest land disappear.”
‘CHANGES THE ESTHETICS’
Michael Tarnow, vice president of the VASA race board, said he believes the logging that has gone on near the VASA single track parking lot and the 50K race loop is finished now.
“We are told that the logging is complete and that the loggers should be out of there soon and that these trails should be left in skiable condition,” Tarnow said.
He said he doesn’t expect there to be any problems on the trail as a result of the logging that has taken place.
“It changes the esthetics from heavily wooded forest areas to more open savannah areas,” Tarnow said. But “the underbrush grows very quickly in open areas and after a couple of years it fills in.”
Julie Clark, executive director of TART trails, which manages the VASA pathway, the recreational section of the trail, said there hasn’t been any logging adjacent to that trail.
“In general, we’ve been really appreciative of how the DNR tries to respect the use of the trail, not that it’s always perfect,” Clark said. “That is such an amazing amenity out there and you don’t want to ruin it.”
‘DARK AND MYSTERIOUS’
Reisig said someone like Windwalker can affect state policy through activism and she might be able to save some land from loggers if she is tenacious.
“Usually, no one says anything, because these things just happen,” Reisig said.
He said perhaps if citizens speak out, they can slow down loggers.
“What we’ve found in the past is that both DEQ and the DNR do respond to citizen input,” Reisig said.
Windwalker hopes so. She believes that what grows back after a logging operation isn’t as good as what gets taken away.
Especially in areas where people like to ride mountain bikes, because once an area is logged, the loss of the canopy can mean the area is hotter in the summer.
“I need my wilderness in order to survive,” she said. Walking through an untouched part of the forest, she added: “In the summer this provides shade. It’s really dark and mysterious here.”