By Tom Pink
Cloverland Electric Cooperative’s service area is home to hundreds of thousands of acres of public forest lands and miles of rivers and streams. Visitors and residents have endless opportunities to explore, exercise and enjoy recreation that is not as readily available to people in more urban communities.
So who needs to be shown the way in all of that wide-open space?
Well, it turns out many people do, and providing that direction throughout the Eastern Upper Peninsula is the O.U.T. House Consortium, a 501©3 non-profit group developed in 2017 that seeks to develop, maintain and promote non-motorized trails in our area.
O.U.T. House Consortium? The name itself is a playful take on “outdoor use of trails,” and it’s comprised of a group of community volunteers who formed partnerships with a variety of area trails organizations and gained support from various entities, such as Friends of the Les Cheneaux Area Trails, Spirit Stone Trail Committee, Little Traverse Conservancy, Bay Mills Community College, Sault Tribe Building Healthier Community Coalition, City of Sault Ste. Marie, Sault Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Lake Superior State University (LSSU), EUP Regional Planning and Development, Cloverland and more.
The group was started by Ken and Wilda Hopper, owners of Bird’s Eye Outfitters of Sault Ste. Marie, who are interested in showing off our area’s natural resources to the world. They founded a board of directors of community volunteers who share their love of the outdoors.
DJ and Courtney Welton are two of those like-minded volunteers and board members.
“We grew up here,” said Courtney. “Tourists need to have something to do when they visit, but local people need this, too.”
She said the group’s efforts to develop trails within the Sault Ste. Marie city limits reflect that belief. One of the consortium’s main projects is the Ashmun Creek Trail, which was started by LSSU Professor Greg Zimmerman and some of his students. A multi-use tunnel under I-75 at Sault Ste. Marie’s I-500 snowmobile track provides access to the trail, but soon-to-be-established trailheads off Sault Ste. Marie’s I-75 Business Spur will greatly expand use, including accessibility for those with disabilities.
“We don’t need to look very far for an example,” Ken Hopper said, noting that Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario has a trail around the city that is popular with locals and visitors alike. He said other regions have seen economic growth when trails have been established and real estate values increase when communities establish trail systems.
O.U.T. House Consortium Treasurer D.J. Welton agrees.
“Municipalities often don’t have resources to do this,” he said. “We can help. We’re a true non-profit, not just a social club. We have a purpose and we’re making our communities better.”
Hopper is a member of the Michigan Trails Advisory Committee, which advises the Department of Natural Resources on trail establishment and use, giving the EUP a voice in future trail decisions. He said the group hopes to connect Sault parks via trail, connect Brimley to Sault Ste. Marie along the snowmobile trail and continue to assist in local trail projects.
“We invite area residents to volunteer with us,” Courtney Welton said. The group holds an annual Seven Bridges and Seven Brews race, based in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, which extends through the downtown area over the Cloverland Electric power canal. It’s one of their major fundraisers, as are their lantern-lit snowshoe treks, which were popular last winter.
Interested in getting involved? Visit outhouseconsortium.org or write firstname.lastname@example.org You can also keep up to date on the group’s projects through Instagram and Facebook (@outhouseconsortium).