One of the reasons that I like mountain biking over road biking is because it typically takes me into the woods. Whenever I get into the woods with a bike my ride ends up as one awesome adventure followed by some great stories. My ride last week at the Owasippee boy scout camp in Montague MI, definitely lived up to my expectations. I had ridden on the camp trails 5 or 6 years ago during an adventure race and even after 7 grueling hours of racing I remember how excited I was to ride these trails. The trails run through oak and pine forests along beautiful lakes and an occasional open savanah. For West Michigan it even has some pretty good climbs and downhills. I can say that Owasippee is now one of my favorite places to ride.
Not everyone knows about the Owasippee trails, some have heard of the camp but they are unaware that it has close to 20 miles of mountain biking specific trails. The main reason being that the property is owned by the Chicago area council of the Boy Scouts of America, and for a period of 4 or 5 years the camp was going through some hard times and changes of leadership to the point of near closure for the camp altogether. During this time the trails were closed to the public for mountain biking. There may have been some local diehards that rode on the trails during this period but it sort of faded as a place to ride by the mountain biking community.
Lucky for us the camp adminitrators resolved many of the ongoing issues dealing with the sale of land and use of the property. I don’t know most of the details but I do know that the trails are again open to the public. There’s a $10 fee per vehicle that you can purchase online or pay at the camp administration building. Riding on the trails is well worth the money. If you plan on riding there often you can also purchase a year pass for $60. The trails are closed to the public till mid September for use only by the boy scouts and then for the month of November for hunting.
Owasippee was on Nate and my radar for our 14 hour adventure. We covered the north, south and east sides of Grand Rapids and this trip would be to the west. The location isn’t as important as a new discovery, but now we can say there’s adventure in every direction.
As we approach the end of summer the days are inevitably getting shorter. We left work right at 5 so we could hit the road and be out on the trails by 6 oclock and get a couple of hours on the trail. We arrived at the main administration building and saw two people loading up their bikes. Since we weren’t sure how to go about paying the $10 fee I asked one of the riders. The guy was more than happy to tell us about the trails and filled us in on what we needed to do. There’s a board near the parking area that has the envelopes and instruction on what to do. Payment is through the honor system although the caretaker of the property has his residence nearby so I would imagine that he checks the cars for the proper passes on occasion. It turns out the guy I talked to was from Whitehall and the local mountain biking group and has spent a lot of time maintaining the trails as well as creating some new sections. He didn’t have any maps but explained how to get started and the basic direction of riding. Sounded good we paid hopped on our bikes and took off.
One of the newer sections of trail is at the start. The designers of the trail moved the starting point to allow for better flow and they marked it with orange flags. It’s a great section of trail but a little bumpy since it’s new. It was a good start. For the most part the trail was well-marked until we reached one of the dirt roads and then it got a little confusing. Looking back I think we missed a turn which sent us riding in the wrong direction on the trail system. There were only two other people on the trails so that wasn’t a big deal but it could have been an issue on the weekend especially on some of the technical downhills. At the time we didn’t realize we were riding in the opposite direction.
We rode for a few miles before we came to an intersection that had a sign post and a the other two riders talking and studying the map. We stopped to get directions since we didn’t have a map and we didn’t want to take the wrong route. The sun was getting lower in the sky and we still had some daylight left, BUT we didn’t want to get stuck out on the trails in the dark with no lights. Fortunately again one of the riders was familiar with the trails. Basically we were at an intersection with four trails coming together. Each one ended up back at the parking area just different distances. One of the trails he said was a 10 mile loop the ended up back in the parking area. He kept describing the trail as the blue loop even though the trail markings were white. That’s the one we wanted to take. At the time we didn’t think about it but as we started down the trail I just assumed that he meant white and not blue. That was until we came to an intersection and left was where the white trail went and right was blue. Ok he must have meant blue, we took a right.
The trail started out as a well established mountain biking trail and marked well with blue markings but after a mile or so it was obvious we took the wrong direction. We ended up on one of the scout hiking trails and it was not well-travelled. It was a lot of work and we had to duck trees and brush but as I rode I thought of how cool this adventure was. We could have turned back but we decided to keep riding till we hit a road or intersection. Sure enough we hit pavement. We were about a mile from the starting point and we headed to the car.
The sun was almost set but I wasn’t ready to give up so we headed back out on the trail and took the 4 mile red loop. It was an awesome ride and we made it back with a few minutes to spare before it was dark. We loaded the bikes and headed to our campsite. I’ll be back to ride the rest of the trails and explore some of the dirt roads and two-track of the area. If you haven’t been to Owasippee yet get out soon and find your adventure!!!