Chatham Ski Hill repaired after vandalism

In what could have been a culturally and financially devastating event of vandalism, the snow base at the Chatham Ski Hill has been repaired. According to ski hill manager Trevor Case, the hill is as good as it can be given the circumstances and safe for local skiers, snowboarders and sledders.

“You can still see it and feel it. The hill is not nearly as flat as it would have been and it won’t be 100 percent again because there’s always that ripple there no matter how much snow we get,” Case said. “We spent a lot of time to build the layers and just to have them trenched out and destroyed was disheartening.”

There have been few leads about who committed the vandalism, but snowmobile tracks show multiple sleds left Trail 8 and used a cross country ski trail to avoid the main roads. The snowmobilers cut deep into the base, but did not cut down far enough to rip up any dirt or grass.

While this has happened before, Case said that even if the trespassers were found, it would be difficult to press any charges. Unlike situations in Houghton or Luce Counties where trespassing snowmobilers have destroyed tens of thousands of dollars in landscaping or permanently damaging golf course greens, just damaging the snow doesn’t have a financial value. Instead, the vandalism is a destruction of hours of volunteer efforts that can never be repaid, while a lower-quality product could deter people from pursuing the sport locally.

“There’s no tangible value to the base built of snow. There’s hours and hours of work to create that and then you destabilize that whole base when you cut through it,” Case said. “When you get a three- or four-yearold learning to ski, it needs to be flat so it’s easy for them. By ruining that, it makes it more difficult for the beginners to get out there.”

Michigan DNR, Alger County SORVA and Trenary Northern Trails — three groups that directly deal with maintenance of snowmobile trail maintenance and enforcement in Alger County — all reached out to try and help the hill restoration efforts, but quick response by residents of Chatham, Rock River and Limestone Township.

While local residents were thankful for volunteers restoring the hill, they were also looking for solutions against snowmobilers choosing to cause problems for the area. Snowmobile riders from the area are also speaking out against the action.

“Congratulations to the idiots who came off trail 8 through the woods into the Chatham Ski Hill. Great way to piss off the people who support the trail and even piss off the people who maintain the trail. Raise your hands if you don’t realize that you shouldn’t ride on an active ski hill, or a cemetery, or across private property,” Trenary Northern Trails posted on its official Facebook page. “We get these calls more often than you think. If anyone knows who did this, please let us know. Absolutely irresponsible and stupid.”

Case, a snowmobiler himself, said that this is an opportunity for public awareness and showcasing the snowmobilers who make every reasonable attempt to respect personal and public property that are off limits to the machines.

“You saw it on social media: the self-policing of everyone just shunning the activity,” Case said. “They made their voice clear that (riding on the ski hill and private property) wasn’t the right thing to do. Anyone that came out in (the vandals’) defense was quickly shut down. Those people that think they can ride anywhere, anytime might think twice next time.”

Additional signage and other security measures are being discussed to help deter any activity that may negatively impact the hill. A fundraiser for the ski hill was already scheduled before the incident on Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Rock River Township Hall. Local snowmobilers have continued to assist in maintenance at the hill.