NORTH EASTERN STATE TRAIL CONSTRUCTION
The construction of the 71-mile North Eastern State Trail (NEST), formerly known as the Alpena to Cheboygan Rail-Trail, is now complete and open for use.
The NEST surfacing project started in April 2011 in Cheboygan and the contractor, Rieth-Riley Construction, has completed the trail surfacing from the City of Cheboygan to Hawks in Presque Isle County (except for 1.5 miles between S. Ocqueoc Road and the Village of Millersburg).
The NEST was constructed with a 10’ wide packed crushed limestone surface with two foot shoulders, similar to what was used on the North Central State Trail (NCST) that runs from Gaylord to Mackinaw City. Included in the surfacing will be new safety signs, access control and mile marker posts. The trail use, determined by the DNR, will stay the same; it will be open for all non-motorized use year round and snowmobiles from December 1 through March 31.
This project is a true collaboration between two state departments, local government and a non- profit organization. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which owns and manages the trail, has been working with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) which completed the engineering for the project and is responsible for project oversight. The Top of Michigan Trails Council (TOMTC) helped create the funding package for the trail project including 60% through a Federal Transportation Grant, 20% from MDOT, 15% from the DNR via the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant and 5% from local units of government.
Maps are available in the “Sections” tab.
As you travel along the connecting trails between Alpena and Cheboygan, you are following the path that was first made possible by the lumber industry and the need for transporting the timber, by rail. Most of the clearing and building of the railroad took place in the late 1800s. The beginnings of the first common carrier were made between Detroit and Bay City, then north to Alpena, only later, connecting to Cheboygan. The railroad was owned at times by various entrepreneurs seeking to make their fortunes in the logging industry. In a rush to get as much of this “green gold” to market, loggers clear cut what seemed like the unlimited supply of Pine trees. No re-planting took place, and the branches and other refuse was left helter –skelter by the rotting stumps. This would become some of the fuel that was part of the devastating fires in the early 1900s. The last owners, the Detroit and Mackinac Railway, ceased operations in 1992 and the trail became fully available for recreational use.
When the lumber was taken from northern Michigan, and there was nothing to replace it, whole towns essentially disappeared. But the real death blow came with the fires of 1908 and 1911. Some towns that are now only cross roads, had lumber mills, churches, general stores, schools, saloons, a post office, hotels, etc. Hundreds of people lost their lives and countless people lost all their belongings and livelihoods. Sawdust and wood chips where used for mud control at a time when cement or asphalt was still unheard of. Lumber storage and huge piles of sawdust where in close proximity to vulnerable homes and businesses. Bricks or stones, in a place of plentiful wood, were considered luxuries.
On October 15, 1908 fire wiped out four towns with many other towns fighting for their lives. A rescue train sent to Metz, a town of approximately 800 between Posen and Hawks, on the rail line between Alpena and Cheboygan, became a train of death. After loading with 200 residents from Metz, the train was able to travel only 2 miles before the rails split in a burning culvert, derailing the engine and leaving the cars behind stranded. Many of the women and children had been loaded into a car described as an open steel gondola, avoiding the wooden box cars as the safer alternative. Unfortunately, they were unable to climb out, and 23 people burned to death in the trap. Others, running for their lives, were found days later dead on the tracks. Even the brakeman of the railroad car, who jumped in the water tank, literally boiled to death. Families all across Cheboygan, Presque Isle and Alpena counties were found in their homes, burned to death.
The little town of Posen has a strong Polish background, and each year on the first weekend after Labor Day, the Posen Potato Festival brings out the polkas and potato pancakes to celebrate. Hawks, once a busy area during the early logging period is almost a ghost town. Onaway, founded in 1881 experienced a large population increase during the logging era, reaching 3000 people by 1903. The town was famous for the wooden auto steering wheels and bike rims, but fires in 1926 saw the end to these businesses and the town began a decline. Cheboygan is characterized by its location on (and beside) the waterways leading to Lake Huron. The home to ferry boat connection to Bois Blanc, a large sparsely inhabited island in Lake Huron near the straits of Mackinac, Cheboygan is also the terminus of the inland waterway trail connecting lakes and rivers from the west side of the state near Petoskey.
Each segment of this beautiful, historic trail has a story to tell. The crushed rock, dirt and cinders beneath your bike tires were most certainly transported to the rail bed more than 100 years ago. But should you look out to either side of the trail and find a large stone embedded in the grass lands, chances are it arrived on the front of a glacier many, many thousands of years ago. The forests or trees you see are not old growth, whether cut down by man or burned during the terrible years of fires. But all along this trail there are little reminders of the people who first made their way in the uncut frontier. Towns sprung up to house the growing population needed for the lumber era. And towns died away, either when the rush was over or by fires that made it impossible to rebuild. Those who lived here gave much and took a great resource from our northern home.
It is now our work to see that our children and grand children will be able to ride their bike or snow mobile into the woods and across rivers that are the only living witnesses of what was here before.
History contributed by Gillespie Richards
Distance: 70 miles
Trail Surface: railroad ballast, to be improved to crushed limestone in 2011
Horses: Permitted in Summer
Snowmobiles: Permitted in Winter
- T= Trailhead
- P= Parking
- R= Restrooms
- A= Amenities
Alpena to Posen
ALPENA (T P R A) TO POSEN. This 17-mile segment runs through farm and forest country to the Village of Posen where there is parking and restrooms. The trail to Rogers City (Rogers City Spur) breaks off the main trail just north of Posen.
Posen to Hawks
POSEN (P R) TO HAWKS: This 10-mile segment passes through mostly wild land with some cultivated areas. Hawks has a business or two that offers amenities and merchandise and a nice trail-side park for trail users to relax.
Hawks to Millersburg
This nine-mile segment passes through scenic country on its way to the Village of Millersburg where the old train depot is being brought back to life as a trail head and history museum. A ride on this segment on a mountain or hybrid bicycle makes for a nice hour or two of riding since the trail surface is in relatively good shape. Millersburg has several businesses with amenities. The Ocqueoc River passes under a notable bridge in downtown Millersburg.
Millersburg to Onaway
MILLERSBURG (P R A) TO ONAWAY. This 9-mile segment is challenging for even mountain bikers although it is not remotely remote. It crosses M 68 just west of Onaway where there is parking and many amenities downtown south of the trail.
Onaway to Aloha State Park
ONAWAY (P R A) TO ALOHA STATE PARK. The trail follows M 68 for two miles to TOWER and then juts abruptly to the northwest en route to the State Park. The 17-mile segment follows the Black River to the Kleber Dam and then tracks through mostly state land that is the wildest and most remote in our entire 259-mile trail system. The trail surface is problematical in many stretches and there are few road crossings until M 33 just south of the park. Inside (and just outside) the park there are good amenities. Aloha State Park sits along the beautiful east side of Mullett Lake that is famous for its sunsets.
Aloha State Park to Cheboygan
ALOHA STATE PARK (T P R A) TO CHEBOYGAN. The 6-miles of this segment are a nearly straight (and bikeable) route through a resort area along the lake and, after Orchard Beach, through mixed farm and forest country to Cheboygan. After the trail crosses over a scenic trestle bridge near Cheboygan it draws ever closer to the Gaylord to Cheboygan Trail that is coming up from the southwest. They come together at the Cheboygan Trailhead just south of downtown on Lincoln Avenue where the City of Cheboygan is planning to construct a proper trailhead at this important junction. There is some parking at the site but most amenities can be found to the north and east in Cheboygan’s downtown where there is plenty to do. For riders continuing to the north on either trail, the trail continues through the city and onto Mackinaw City.
Shortcut to Gaylord to Mackinaw City Trail
SHORTCUT TO NORTH CENTRAL STATE TRAIL: You can reach the Gaylord to Mackinaw City Trail without going into Cheboygan by taking Riggsville Road west about a mile south of the Cheboygan Trailhead. Riggsville Road is all paved but is often quite busy with traffic.
Shortcut to Petoskey to Mackinaw City Trail
SHORTCUT TO PETOSKEY TO MACKINAW CITY TRAIL: You can reach the Petoskey to Mackinaw City Trail without going into Mackinaw City in the following way. A mile south of Mill Creek State Park take Hebron Mail Road south to Potter Road. Follow Potter as it goes over I-75 and crosses US 31 where it becomes Linsley Road. From there it is a short distance to the trail. Go left to Petoskey or right to Mackinaw City.
There are also excellent chances for “loop” rides through fairly remote country on local roads from several points along the way.