A Brief History of the Tech Trails

Map of Michigan Tech campus

Depending on when you were on campus, your memories of the Tech Trails may be much different than what they are today. Michigan Tech’s 540+ acres of forest just up the hill from the main campus mall has seen many different uses and iterations over the years.

Currently, the Tech Trails are one of the nation’s top Nordic skiing facilities. It has hosted numerous U.S. Ski Association (USSA) Cross Country National Championships in addition to regional college races in both skiing and cross country running.

Aerial view of Michigan Tech campusIn its past, we’ve heard stories about the Trails being used for dirt bikes, snowmobiles, camping, ROTC exercises, and even hunting.

Mike Abbott has a long history at Michigan Tech and was part of the group that developed the Trails. “When I started working here, the Trails were just a path in the woods. We used an old box spring pulled by a one-lung snow machine to groom snow for skiing.”

Michigan Tech Trails mapNow, the facility boasts nearly 40 kilometers of groomed trails (7K of lighted ski trails for early morning or evening skiing in the winter). In the winter, uses include skiing, snowshoeing, snow (fat tire) biking, and skijoring (skiing while being pulled by a dog). Running, biking and dog walking are popular uses in the summer. The use of the Trails for mountain biking continues to grow with two flow trails and a pump track available along with the 40K of regular trail. Other portions of the Tech Trails acreage are used for paintball in addition to the Tech Outdoor Adventure Program’s high ropes course.

A big reason why the Tech Trails have evolved into an outdoor recreation wonderland is former president Glenn Mroz.

Michigan Tech skierIn 2001, Mroz and several others devised a plan to develop the trails as a way to secure funding for the Michigan Tech varsity Nordic skiing program. The vision for the project also included the creation of a facility that would be a differentiator for the University and attract outdoor-loving students.

Mroz, who was then dean of the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, proposed that revenue could be generated from timber harvesting to support the team and upgrade the Trails. Since 2002, the facility has gone through numerous upgrades: enlarging the stadium area and widening trails to host races, building bridges and stopping erosion issues, adding buildings to house equipment and provide space for ski waxing, and installing signage throughout the trail system.

So how did you use the Tech Trails? Leave your comment below.

25 responses to “A Brief History of the Tech Trails

  1. Yes, I did use the Tech Trails during my time at Tech, but I don’t remember them being called anything other than the “trails by the ice arena.” They were not developed, marked, or even level. They were ruts running through the woods. I was in Air Force ROTC, but the Army ROTC offered PE class called “ranger training” or “cobra training.” Almost all the Army cadets participated, only a few Air force cadets did. I was one of them. In the fall, we learned to rappel first on campus in the ROTC building and then Hungarian Falls. The Army cadre were the instructors. I also remember one of them going down the side of the ME-EM building I believe. During the winter we learned to cross country ski and snowshoe using Army equipment that doesn’t look, weigh, or operate like todays cross country skis and snow shoes. The skis were large and weighed a ton, they looked like they were made during World War II. The snow shoes were not much better. We did all our cross country skiing in the area of Today’s Tech Trails. These trails were rough, extremely hilly, not wide at all. The only saving grace was cross country skiing was not popular at that time. We rarely ran into anyone. We would be skiing all day on Saturday or a week day afternoon and only see one person or no one. It was just us cadets using the old logging trails and I believe an old power right-of-way. I only can remember one “bridge” across a stream bed. We didn’t do much skiing per say, it was work and very tiring back in the day. I remember one area that was straight, somewhat level and we could actually ski, the rest of the trails were work!!

  2. I went to Tech from 74 to 78, and bought my cross country skis during summer break specifically because of the trails. Learned all about waxing my new bonna skis. None of my buddies skied so I was learning on my own. The trails were a challenge for sure. Pretty narrow and up and down. I remember how quiet and beautiful it was with all the powder snow. I also took a phys ed class in orienteering put on by the ROTC, which took place in the woods the trails were in.

  3. My Tech years were 68-72. I remember carrying my canvas book bag into what later became the trails to find a quiet place to study. In those years I didn’t need to go very far in.

  4. Keith Richmond ’75
    Took up cross country skiing and probably skied 3 times a week. No lights back then, but you could easily ski the trail on a moonlit night if you were familiar with the trail.

    I remember often being the first person on the trail (not many even skied my first 2 years) after snow. So first time around I was breaking trail. My memory might be off, but it seems like my freshman year we had a record 390″ in the Copper Country.

  5. I attended Tech from 1952 to 1956, which was before “Tech Trails” existed. There was a decent trail in that area, but I was usually the only user. My routine was to go to classes from 8 to 10 AM three days a week, then wax my skis for the day’s conditions and drive to the start of the trail. I would run 2 laps around the course, then be back to the campus in time for a quick lunch and shower followed by a 1 PM class. Many mornings the branches of the brush would be coated with long ice crystals, which were absolutely beautiful in the morning sun. Although I had never even seen a pair of cross-country skis before I arrived at Tech, over the years I was able to become sufficiently proficient to take second place in a meet at Duluth with the university there, and finished third in the 1956 National Cross-Country Championship at Ishpeming (while most of the better competitors were out west competing for an olympic berth.)

  6. I loved cycling Copper Countries roads in Fall and Spring (’75-’77), but once the snow flew, the bike was put away and the XC skis came out. A quick circuit around the trails after class and before dinner in Coed dining hall refreshed me before hitting the books in the evening. Trails then were ungroomed. A misstep off two-track created by skiers and you were likely to be waist deep in powder. Now that I’m in Boston area where winters are unpredictable — rain changing to snow or snow changing to rain — I miss the days of being able to walk up the hill, step into 3-pin bindings, and enjoy the quiet beauty of snow-covered woods.

  7. I attended Mich Tech from 76 to 82. What I remember about the area was a large block of woods cleared for the SDC in 79, and much of the woods East of the SDC having a lot of large mature Northern Red Oak. Only a few trails went through the woods. In 1980, much of the commentary on campus centered on what a white elephant the SDC was. ( It really didn’t start to be heavily used until late 1981. Most of us preferred to use the familiar, old gym – which is now an arts center ! )

  8. I finished there in 1980. I don’t remember any trails. I do remember that I wouldn’t have had any time for recreation. Those professors kept me quite busy. However, I did not have to walk 5 miles to Campus uphill in both directions in a snowstorm. (Just uphill in one direction with an occasional snow storm)

  9. Used to grouse hunt back there in the mid 60’s. There was a cemetery back there that we’d go beyond & we found pretty good Pat cover. We’d also jump a rabbit once on a while. Only way we had to cook was with an electric coffee pot! We’d fill half full, drop in the spice pellet from a package of Lipton Chicken Soup then insert the cleaned bird or rabbit & cook until the “coffee ready” light came on. It was actually pretty good.

  10. I attended ’75 to ’79 and like Mike Scholten (one of many XC skiers on 4th floor East Coed who got me interested in the sport) loved to zip up the hill several times a week and get a quick XC ski in before dinner at Coed Hall. I remarked often how nice it was to know there would be snow and so you could plan to go any day or time and have a good experience, unlike West MI where snow was plentiful but unpredictable. Many good stories shared over dinner about people’s experiences skiing that day. I also ran XC for Tech and we spent many hours running those trails as a team and on our own. There is nothing like running forested trails and Tech’s were some of the best . . . except the day I landed wrong and broke my ankle on a training run. Lastly, ROTC also used the trails to teach an ‘Orienteering’ class as part of the PE program. It was close to the best class I ever took. Four courses every week, four two-hour time slots during the day. I think it was on Thursdays. A great day was being able to run all four courses because I had no classes on Thursday that quarter. Loved those trails.

  11. We hunted ruffed G. there in 1960-61, no trails. also snowshoe up from married housing, was great for some one with out a car. My new wife learned to snowshoe there, all forester’s wives need to know how to use snowshoes

  12. Steven Bett ’76 B.S. Forest Mgt.

    I ran Cross Country for MTU ’72 -’75 Joe Cohane and John Hubbard taught me to Nordic Ski during the winter of ’72-’73. I was racing in two weeks. Most of my workout training was on the trails behind the ice arena and tennis courts. I was staying with Bill “Axle” Anderson in west Houghton and would enter on the trail south side of Houghton.

  13. I went to Tech from Spring ‘73 thru Spring ‘76 living up in married housing with my wife Karen. My first experience with the Tech trails was on a dirt bike prompted by a friend John Saarinen. We spent many a days riding the trails along with another friend in our building, Dale Thompson. One memorable experience was when the three of us were riding the trail when John lead us up a challenging hill off the trail. Dale made it up about 3/4 of the way when he bounced off a fallen tree and went down. He quickly jumped up and started doing what looked like an Indian rain dance. What had happened was he kicked up a nest of bees that were now taking their revenge out on him. He had to abandon his motorcycle there and we got him back home to treat the many stings. So John being a scuba diver either he or Dale went back out to fetch the bike in full scuba gear. I went along keeping my distance and will never forget that day.

    I took up x-country skiing the winter of 74/75 when we had about 370” of snow. That year another couple living in our building, Glenn and Gale Mroz, who along with Dale and Liz Thompson and Karen and myself would go out skiing on the trails on the weekends. By our return from Christmas break the snow was deep enough that it was easy to build a snow ramp that let us step over the 4’ fence that suppurated us from the cemetery behind our apartment. So it was clip on the skis out the back door and head into the woods. On one of those days it was Gale Mroz who when going down a down hill run that curved to the right with a drop off on the left marked by short post, caught the tip of her left ski on one of those post and snapped the front of the ski off. That was a fun trip back on a ski and a half. So those are some of my memories of the Tech ski trails.

  14. Cross Country alum, ’95-’00 on the “old” trails before the current version was built. We ran for Gary Nichols. Lot’s of intervals. Hairpin and Ks on the old railroad grade. ROTC put in some small wood-chipped loops where the stadium is now in ’97 or ’98 I think. Very hard to run fast in fresh, loose chips. 🙂 The GLIAC CC meet has been held on the trails twice. In 2000, starting on one of the softballs fields adjacent to the trails. And in 2013 using the current stadium. I believe Tech hosted that meet in 1994 also, but on the golf course.

  15. Back in the late 1960’s Tech had a motorcycle club and we used to ride the trails after classes and held an off-road enduro event and a motocross event there in 1969 & 1970. After class it was a good way to burn off some extra energy and frustration as at that time Tech had about 28 Toots to 1 Tootet

  16. I graduated in 1979 and used the Tech trails a lot to Nordic ski to school in the winter as I was living up on Volin Place and had good access to the trails.

  17. Brought my graduation gift a too big for me Schwinn High Plains up in 93 and realized it wasn’t going to cut it for Mtn Biking the Tech trails. Bought 2 GT’s from Cross Country Sports in Calumet over the next 4 years. Got the opportunity to bring my son up two years ago with my vintage 96 GT Zaskar to ride the trails. Big change over when I last rode them in 98. He arrives Monday morning to participate in the Summer Mtn Bike Camp! (We got flooded out last year!)

  18. I learned to mountain bike on the Tech Trails, ’97-’03, before the current flow trail phenomenon. At that time they were classic mountain bike trails – tough, rough, technical climbs, downhills without bermed corners, logs that weren’t logs, not carved into jumps. I credit my technical skills with riding on the tech trails 6 days a week. We used to grind through at least one drivetrain (chain, rains, cassettes and rim brakes) a season because the mud was prevalent and super abrasive. There was no formal map, you learned from friends and by exploring. Having those trails 10 minutes (and quite the climb) from campus was perfect for a quick after class lap session.

  19. I went to Tech 90-94. I used the trails for skiing and mountain biking. Love the trails. Don’t remember lights. I remember just finding my way around and by the end of 4 years knew them very well. Couldn’t believe the system available to me so close to where I lived. Spoiled!

  20. I took a phy ed course in orienteering in Fall ’80, and we ran these trails with a map and compass looking for punch stations. I tried to keep up with a guy who was on the Nordic ski team who knew all the trails.

  21. Hiking, skiing, snowshoeing. That’s where I went to get away, get some peace and alone time. Saved my sanity (I think? Mebbe not…). It was so beautiful in winter. 1970’s.

  22. I went to Tech 70 to 75. In 72 I discovered skiing and have been doing it ever since. I miss how close those trails are compared to here. However, you can’t beat the season here–I skied from the week before Thanksgiving to June 5th this year!

  23. I enjoyed the Phys. Ed. Orienteering course on those trails around ’78. I was at Tech ’78-’82. In ’80-82 I lived at Pewabic and South next to the Hannon family, across from Houghton High School. I could access the trails from E. Sharon Ave. I can view that house on Google street view, but the high school is demolished and there is a vacant lot there and even Pewabic Street is partially blocked off now.
    I also had a dual sport motorcycle (Suzuki TS-400) that I rode on those trails a little. And I cross country skied toured on those trails as well as Portage Lake and even off track routes to the southwest including locations like Superior, Atlantic Mine, and Baltic and as well as trips on the lakes further north including Dollar Bay and Torch Lake and Calumet and even Mandan. I did the Copper Country 125 cycling loop several times.
    I remember a farm on the south border of the Tech trail system where Terry Lahti had a motocross track in the surrounding field and hosted a yearly race. He fixed my Suzuki that had a broken engine mount weld in his barn shop with a Bultaco sign on it. I have enjoyed nordic skiing in all the years since and have re-started offroad moto in the mountains of Colorado in the past 6-7 years.

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