Snowmobiling the North Eastern State Trail
As we begin the start of a new year, mother nature has brought us a fresh dusting of powder in which to enjoy the outdoors of northeast Michigan. With the ground now covered, it’s time to pull out the sleds and get a first-hand look at the back country. One popular destination in the Alpena area is the North Eastern State Trail.
This 71-mile trail, which was formerly operated as a railroad by the Detroit and Mackinac Railway, who ceased railway operations along the route in 1992, runs from Alpena to Cheboygan, intersecting a number of towns and villages along the way. Most of these towns popped up in the late-1800’s, as a result of the growing lumber boom in northern Michigan. During it’s heyday, and before the advent of the automobile and resulting roadways, the railroad was the primary means for moving freight and passengers over land in the area. The ten-foot wide trail, constructed from packed crushed limestone, is now open for non-motorized use and for snowmobile use between December 1st and March 31st.
Alpena to Posen
In Alpena, the trail can be accessed from Woodward street one-quarter mile north of Northern Lights Arena. From there, the trail heads north-westerly, crossing US-23 and continuing on through the villages of Cathro and Bolton for 16 miles to Posen. Cathro was once a small town boasting 125 residents, a blacksmith shop, shingle mill and general store. Bolton, 11 miles northwest of Alpena, had a 1905 population of 250, a saw mill, saloon, general store and school. Today, a handful of residences remain behind to remind us of their vibrant past. Riders passing through Bolton can stop in at the Bolton Bar, just south of the trail along Bolton Road for their advertised pizza and ribs.
Posen, home of the annual Posen Potato Festival, also saw the first utility pole set by the Presque Isle Cooperative on September 22, 1937, which was part of the Rural Electrification Administration. The REA was a New Deal program designed to provide low-cost power to rural areas. There is a gas station in town for both riders and machines to fuel up if necessary.
Posen to Onaway
From Posen, the trail continues northwesterly through the villages of Metz, Hawks and Millersburg, before heading into Onaway, which was once known as the largest manufacturer of wooden steering wheels in the early days of the automobile. Today, Metz boasts the Blind Pig, where local residents can stop in for a burger and beverage of their choice. On October 15, 1908, however, the townspeople of Metz were not so fortunate. That day, a massive fire swept through Presque Isle and Alpena counties, destroying the town and leaving over 700 people homeless. Tragically, as a group of residents were attempting to flee the fire along the railway to Posen, the fire also took the lives of 16 people in an open goldola car when the rails warped from the heat. A historical marker stands near the trail to commemorate those who suffered and perished. Hawks, a village once known as LaRocque, is situated about 10 miles northwest of Posen. It boasts a gas station for fueling and the Night Hawk Inn, which features a Friday night buffet in February and March. Another nine miles of trail finds the village of Millersburg, which is the intersection of a number of sledding routes that take riders to Alpena, Hillman, Atlanta, Black Mountain and Cheboygan. Millersburg is also home to the Three Cedars Restaurant, whose motto is “Great Food, Good Friends, Great Fun!” Onaway, the only “city” located between the trail ends, once nearly became the county seat of Presque Isle county and has an historic courthouse, now home of the Onaway Historical Museum. Riders can find fuel in town west of the trail along M-68 and also stop in at the Woodwinds Restaurant, taking a break from the trail to enjoy the rustic décor.
Onaway to Cheboygan
From Onaway, riders head westerly to Tower. There, the trail heads northwesterly, paralleling the Black River for more than three miles before veering off and eventually reaching Aloha, which is home to the shortest Michigan State Highway, M-212. Aloha is also home to Aloha State Park, which was originally established by the Detroit and Mackinac Railway. Once the motorcar became the preferred method of travel, the railway sold the park to Cheboygan county, who in turn donated the property to the state of Michigan in 1923. Aloha also features a store that operates year-round. From Aloha, riders will enjoy exceptional views of Mullett Lake during the last seven-plus mile ride across M-27 and up into the city of Cheboygan.
In Cheboygan the trail can be accessed at the trailhead, located at Western and Taylor Streets, just north of Lincoln Street. From the Cheboygan trailhead, sledders can travel the North Central State Trail, either northwest to Mackinaw City or by heading south toward Gaylord.
More detailed information, along with maps of the trail, can be accessed by visiting the Top of Michigan Trails Council website at www.trailscouncil.org