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Copper Harbor Trails FestThe mission of the Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) is to advocate for, develop, and maintain trails and land for human-powered activities in and connecting to Copper Harbor. Put more simply, we build and maintain incredible trails near Michigan’s northernmost town. Our trails are open year-round, come rain or sun or feet of snow. We welcome trail users of all ages, ability, race, color, orientation, gender, religion, profession, or however else you identify yourself. On the trail, we’re all equal in our love for being outdoors in the Keweenaw’s magnificent woods and rocky shorelines. The Copper Harbor trails are free to use and open to the public.  Always have, always will.

Our trails are sustainably built and optimized for mountain bikes.  However, that’s not to say that other trail users aren’t allowed.  With the exception of a few dedicated downhill rippers, all of our singletrack trails are multi-use for all non-motorized pursuits. That means hikers, birdwatchers, berry pickers, rockhounds, backpackers, trail runners, dog walkers, photographers, and basically anyone propelling themselves with their own two feet can use our trails alongside our mountain biking brethren.  In the winter, snowshoers, and backcountry explorers take over the system.  XC skiers and fatbikers can enjoy a few loops closer to town on the easier-to-groom terrain and unplowed roads.  Per our landowners’ requests, we do not currently allow E-bikes on our singletrack trails.

The Copper Harbor Trails Club is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  We are officially incorporated as the Copper Harbor Trails Society Inc., but we thought Club sounded more appealing at some point in our history and stuck with it.  We partner with several other organizations in the Copper Country to improve trail access and conditions for all users.  Our goal?  To make the Keweenaw one of the top trail destinations not just in Michigan or the Midwest, but the world.  Don’t believe it?  Come up and see for yourself what makes Copper Harbor so special!

How do we do what we do?  

CHTC is a member-driven organization with a volunteer Board of Directors and a paid Executive Director to help keep the wheels moving.  To put quality trail on the ground, we contract with Rock Solid Trail Contracting, based right here in Copper Harbor.  Talk about a lucky break having the best trail builder in the business in our hometown!  Long ago we used to build all of our trails by hand, utilizing volunteers to hack out bench cuts from the side of the mountain.  These days our new trails are all machine-built.  It’s faster, easier, and it frees up our volunteers for general maintenance work, assisting with events, and most importantly, actually using our trails.

To fund our trail building efforts, we rely on generous donors, fundraising events, and grant writing. Great trails don’t happen by accident, and despite our best efforts we still haven’t won the lottery or met that elusive Nigerian prince. Trail construction can run anywhere between $15,000 to $35,000+ per mile depending on the ruggedness of the terrain we are building through. Rocky soils, dense forests, and literal cliffs all slow progress and increase costs.  It ain’t easy, but the results are worth it.

What else do we do?

Our trails help support the Keweenaw’s growing and ever-evolving tourism economy.  Those cars, trucks, and RVs rolling into town with bikes hanging off the back bring dollars to local businesses. Whether they’re staying in motels or campgrounds, eating at restaurants passed down through the family, or spending the evening at one of our fine local breweries, visitors to our trails infuse an enormous amount of money into our region.  People gotta eat and sleep somewhere, and #vanlife is not for everyone. For local riders, having great trails is more about quality of life. There’s a reason people come to live and work in a place as remote as the U.P., and one big reason is our superior access to top-notch recreational opportunities that the Copper Harbor trails offer.

Rock Roll RideDuring the summer months we host two clinics designed to help riders advance in the sport.  Whether you are a beginner just getting into mountain biking or an advanced rider honing your skills for even bigger and badder jumps and drops, our Women’s Weekend and Big Boy clinics are just what the coach ordered.  And for the kids?  Our Singletrack Flyers youth mountain biking initiative is leading the charge for our local riders.  From fearless striders on up, these little rippers will soon be the trail advocates and racers of tomorrow.

Anything else? Glad you asked. CHTC assists with grooming snowbike trails at Churning Rapids near Hancock.  We help maintain a 9-hole disc golf course at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.  Artists come together to curate a summer-long ArtBike art show to support our trails. And let’s not forget the kick-ass events we host each summer, including Experience the Keweenaw and the Bell’s Beer Copper Harbor Trails Fest, now coming up on its 26th year. These aren’t just fundraisers for the Copper Harbor Trails Club.  They’re a way to bring us together to celebrate what makes our region so special: the people, the place, and the best riding around.

How many people exactly? Trail counters in 2015 showed over 20,000 people passed by the main Copper Harbor trailhead between May and October.  Quite a lot for a town of just 100 residents.

Who Are We?

The Copper Harbor Trails Club is lead by a dedicated group of volunteer Board of Directors.  This nine-member Board oversees organization policy, sets the budget, coordinates with CHTC's committees, and assists with the promotion of our mission within the greater community.  We have one full-time staff member, Executive Director Nathan Miller, who manages the organization's day-to-day inner workings both big and small.  Learn more about our Board and Staff here.

What have we accomplished so far?

Here’s a timeline of where we’ve been and where we are headed. 

1994 First annual Fat Tire Festival on logging roads with 30 local participants

1999 Fat Tire Festival race course changed from 2-track and logging roads to primarily singletrack trails.  Race changed from morning to an afternoon start and the finish line was moved from the Clark Mine to the Township Park to create more of a spectator scene.

2000 Post race cookout and live music incorporated into Fat Tire Festival

2000 Local volunteer efforts really started to dig in to build singletrack trails

2002 First national exposure for Copper Harbor trails in August issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine Mission Superior story

2008 Copper Harbor Trails Trails Society Inc. aka Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization was formed

2008 Started jackhammering into those huge rocks and hired trail building staff

2009 Copper Harbor trails earned its IMBA Epic Ride status

2009 Started first Donor Program

2010 CHTC joins International Mountain Bicycling Association’s (IMBA) Chapter Program

2010 First excavator purchased

2010 Invested $10,000 into an endowment through Keweenaw Community Foundation

2010 A 9-hole disc golf course was built by the CHTC at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge

2011 Copper Harbor Trails earned Bronze Level Ride Center status from IMBA

2012 The Flow Trail was recognized with an IMBA Flow Country Trail Award

2012 Copper Harbor Trails moved up to IMBA Silver Level Ride Center status

2012 Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival was renamed Bell’s Beer Copper Harbor Trails Festival 

2012 CHTC board with the support of IMBA hired Lori Hauswirth as its first Executive Director

2013 CHTC had 5 trail builders on staff building trails in Copper Harbor and working on a few projects farther south in the Keweenaw region

2013 CHTC was awarded a Bell Built Grant for construction of the expert downhill run, Overflow Trail

2013 Recieved funding assistance from USDA - Rural Development RBEG program for new excavator, tracked haulers, and jackhammer

2013 CHTC hosted its first Ladies Weekend with pro mountain bike coach Lindsey Voreis

2014 Recognized as a National Recreation Trail 

2014 Eliminated trail building staff in favor of contracting with professional trail builder 

2014 Hosted SingleSpeed USA

2015 Approximately 2.5 miles were constructed for Phase I of the Keweenaw Point Trail.  Financial support for project courtesy of the Steven C. Leuthold Family Foundation, Plum Creek Foundation, and Michigan DNR Partnership Grant. 

2016 Phase 2 of the Keweenaw Point Trail construction began. Funding for 93 acres access protection project secured. Lower Garden Brook Trail reconstructed and new hiking-only trail built off of Brockway Mountain.

2017 Phase 2 of the Keweenaw Point Trail completed, adding over six miles of superb singletrack out to High Rock Bay

2018 CHTC hired its second Executive Director, Nathan Miller

2018 Adopted the Singletrack Flyers youth mountain biking initiative

2018 Constructed Raptor Ridge, an intermediate alternative to the treacherous On The Edge boardwalks.

2019 Established the Back 9 Trails in partnership with the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge

2020 Did not host the Copper Harbor Trails Festival for the first time in generations due to COVID-19

What’s next?

Glad you asked.  There’s a lot of potential land and great terrain to work with in the Keweenaw region.  Some we have permanent access to, other land we either need to acquire or secure permissions for trail development.  The CHTC is currently putting together a comprehensive plan that will show proposed trail routes, help identify key parcels of property, and funding needs.  If you or someone you know would like to help support any of these projects, please contact us. 

The short list of projects for 2021: 

  • Regular ongoing trail and boardwalk maintenance with the help of hired summer trail workers
  • Rework of Daisy Dukes to bring back the small jump trail to its former glory
  • Cleaning up Overflow and (potentially) Flying Squirrel
  • Finishing the bridge on the Owleyes portion of the Keweenaw Point Trail near East Bluff
  • Closing out the 2016 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to protect permanent access to the old-school trails at the heart of our network.
  • Assisting the Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition with installing vault toilets at High Rock Bay
  • Constructing a brand-new easy connector trail from the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge to Manganese Falls
  • Keweenaw Point Trail Phase 3 permitting and beginning trail construction (will this be the year?!)

The longer list of projects:

  • Connector trails between the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Copper Harbor, and East Bluff trail development
  • Development of a network of easy singletrack trails suitable for winter fat bike trail grooming
  • Keweenaw Ridge Trail Development (Brockway Mountain to Eagle Harbor to Eagle River and beyond)

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