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CHEBOYGAN - Cheboygan-area residents will have an opportunity to share their views on creating a Gaylord-to-Cheboygan snowmobile trail with a panel of state lawmakers in October.

State Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, has arranged a public hearing of the Michigan State House Subcommittee on Tourism to take place at 10 a.m. Oct. 10 at the Cheboygan Area High School auditorium.

"The trail has been an ongoing discussion item that needs to be put on the front burner," said Elsenheimer, a freshman lawmaker whose district includes much of Cheboygan County. "This hearing will help bring greater attention to the importance of creating this trail, especially by pointing out the impact it will have on winter tourism and other economic benefits to Northern Michigan.

For more than 10 years, business owners and snowmobilers have appealed to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to designate a trail linking Cheboygan and Gaylord. A snowmobile trail exists on the former railroad tracks linking the two cities, but a 12-mile stretch known as the West Mullett trail is off limits to snowmobilers.

The ban stems from a non-binding agreement made in 1994 by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to landowners that no motorized vehicles would be allowed on that section of trail.

Since that time the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Commission and snowmobile enthusiasts have been working on an alternate route that was promised by the state in 1994. Several routes have been shot down during the past five years, including the most recent which was dealt a fatal blow by a gubernatorial veto at the end of December 2004.

Elsenheimer introduced a bill this year, passed by both House and Senate, that would allow snowmobile trails of limited-access highway right-of-way, such as Interstate 75, as part of the state's snowmobile trail system with approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation. Under the bill the DNR and MDOT would be in charge of establishing the details of the program to insure safety and logistics issues are addressed.

An identical bill passed in 2004 was vetoed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on the advice of MDOT Director Gloria Jeff. Granholm's office indicated this year that the governor would be open to signing the resurrected version of the bill.

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