TOMTC Partners with Friends of the High Country Pathway

A new partnership between Top of Michigan Trails Council and the Friends of the High Country Pathway will boost volunteerism and help spread awareness of the 80-mile hiking and mountain biking loop trail that cuts through the heart of the Pigeon River Country in Montmorency and Otsego counties.

The Trails Council, a Petoskey-based nonprofit, oversees a 325-mile nonmotorized multi-use trail network in Northern Michigan, including the Little Traverse Wheelway, Boyne City to Charlevoix Trail, North Western State Trail, and more.

Mark Kunitzer, the Pathway’s lead volunteer, said he’s excited about the new partnership’s potential.

The High Country Pathway is one of the most unique and longest hiking\mountain biking trails in the state,” he said. “It is also one of the lesser known trails. By partnering with the Trails Council, the path will have the support of an organization that is well known for advocating and promoting trails in northern Michigan.”

Trails Council Executive Director Brent Bolin said aside from lending the trail some financial management and fundraising support, his organization will also actively promote the High Country Pathway – something Kunitzer welcomed for different reasons.

My hope is that with TOMTC on board we can get more people using the trail and possibly even get a few more people volunteering,” Kunitzer added. “The Trails Council will also be handling donations for the trail as maintenance is almost exclusively handled by volunteers. This will allow for continued trail improvements.”

Bolin said the Trails Council has similar agreements with Wildwood Hills Pathway and Black Mountain Recreation Area – both cared for mostly by volunteers.

According to Kunitzer, the High Country Pathway is an 80-mile loop trail system that passes through habitats ranging from rolling hardwood forests to cedar swamps, and is the home to one of the largest free-roaming elk herds east of the Mississippi.

According to the Michigan DNR’s web page for the trail, “There are nine state forest campgrounds along the pathway for backpackers to spend the night or to access to the trail from. The trail can also be accessed at the Pigeon River Country State Forest Headquarters, found on Twin Lakes Road in Vanderbilt.”

Bolin said the Trails Council is developing a High Country Pathway web page for its own website,

Both Bolin and Kunitzer agree that for many multi-use recreational trails, volunteers play an important role in day to day trail management.

While they may own the land, logistically it’s nearly impossible for governments to maintain these long stretches of trail,” Bolin explained. “Volunteers pick up a lot of that slack, investing their own time, sweat, and money to ensure trails remain viable throughout the seasons. Trimming back brush, removing fallen trees and low-hanging branches, repairing bridges, installing signage, grooming for skiing, fat biking, etc. – that’s all difficult work. And it’s sometimes expensive work with volunteers often dipping into their own pockets for tools, machinery, fuel, and other hardware.”

One of the partnership’s goals is to establish a donation portal on the Trails Council website in hopes of gathering volunteer support. Like with Black Mountain and Wildwood Hills, the plan is to use donations to offset volunteer fuel expenses, equipment costs, repairs, etc.