Cadillac’s Winter Sports Trail: Where the rubber meets the snow
Cadillac’s Winter Sports Trail attracts fatbikers, snowshoers and walkers
Winter biking with Dave Foley
“The trail’s a little rough, but the groomer’s coming at three-thirty,” noted Michele Andrews, as we pedaled under the Winter Sports Trail banner. It was my first time here, but the snow cover had only arrived last week, so it’s not like I had missed many opportunities to get out. The snow today is what they call packed powder. A surface that tended to squib under my tires as I rode over it. I followed Michele down a two-track and then into the woods on a twisting path that wound among the trees. The trail, an out-and-back with a lollipop loop at the end totals eleven miles. Going out, the first two-and-a-half miles are generally level. Just right for novice riders and getting warmed up. Once you cross Seeley Road, the climbing starts with several moderate hills over the next section. If someone reached Seeley Road and didn’t want to pedal back, they could follow the road for about a mile and return to the parking lot.
The Winter Sports Trail (WST) owes its existence to Michele Andrews and Rob Millen, who hatched the idea of a groomed fatbike trail. It would be the first in the area; the nearest prepared trails being the Vasa in Traverse City and the Big M near Manistee, about 40-mile drives from Cadillac. Cyclists, like myself, embraced the plan for a local trail.
Until winter claims the land, mountain bike and fatbikers in the Cadillac area have access to the many miles of trails and two-track roads that crisscross the Manistee National Forest and Michigan Department of Natural Resource property. But once the snow piles up, the only passage into the backcountry for pedalers lies where snowmobiles have packed the trail. Sharing with a herd of snow machines, however, can be unnerving, and, at times, downright hazardous. Now there’s another option.
Located just east of this northern Michigan town, the WST is adjacent to the 11.3-mile Cadillac Pathway, which is a favorite destination for cyclists, runners and walkers until the snow arrives. During the winter, the Cadillac Pathway is groomed for cross country skiers. If you weren’t on skinny skis, you had to look elsewhere for a workout. Not anymore. The WST is open to all. Having the ski trail and the WST at the same starting point allows visitors to share the parking lots and restrooms.
“The WST is strictly a seasonal trail,” explained Andrews. “It won’t be open for use until December 1st or until there’s at least six inches of snow on the ground and it will be closed April 1st or when the snow level drops below a half-foot.
“We want to minimize the effect on the land until we establish a permanent trail. I imagine there will be some tweaking until we come up with a final route,” Andrews added.
Through a grant from the local Rotary Club and profits from the Bear Claw Epic mountain bike race, a new Yamaha snowmobile was purchased and a trail roller was built enabling the WST to become one of the first trails in northern Michigan to be groomed specifically for fatbikes.
Millen, along with Andrews, and a committee representing the Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association have designed a trail that uses existing two-track roads as well as new sections that will meander through the woods, running somewhat parallel to the existing ski trail. Visitors can access the trails from the DNR Cadillac Pathway parking lot off Seeley Road. Because much of route lies in a forest of hardwoods and conifers, even when it’s storming, the skiers on the Cadillac Pathway ski trail and those on the Winter Sports Trail will, for the most part, be sheltered from the wind.
Cadillac, which is at the highest elevation (1,250 feet) in the Lower Peninsula, tends to hold snow better than surrounding regions. It’s often the farthest area south to offer cross country skiing for much of the winter, making it a tourist destination for those coming north from Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing. With the sales of fatbikes soaring in recent years, the community saw the need for a groomed fatbike trail. When the plan for the WST was presented, they got behind it, providing, in addition to the snowmobile trailer and groomer, funding for signage and maintenance.
Joy VanDrie, Cadillac Visitors’ Bureau director noted that, “I’m delighted that Cadillac’s getting a groomed trail that’s available for fatbike riders. There’s been an amazing amount of interest in fatbiking in recent years and I’m glad our community now has something to offer winter cyclists.”