By Carol Stiffler
The ongoing dispute between the Curtis Area Chamber of Commerce and what was formerly known as the Curtis Groomers seems poised to resolve after a recent agreement to separate the groomers from the chamber and transition the state grant to the new groomers association.
The new non-profit association, called the Curtis Area Trail Association, was formed on January 5. Ross Abraham is president. Abraham, who says he spent 700 hours grooming the trails last year, had seemingly fallen out of favor with the chamber during a 300-ticket fundraising raffle for a new snowmobile.
The separation of the two entities is nearly complete, with two major exceptions: The groomer barn exists on property deeded to the chamber, and the chamber still has control of the groomer fund, which holds $118,700, according to Abraham.
Abraham said the chamber offered to sell the Curtis Area Trail Association the existing groomer barn for $30,000, an offer the new association has rejected.
“The groomers paid $37,000 for the building in 2001,” Abraham said. “We don’t want to pay for it again.”
The property is held in the chamber’s name, he said, but groomer funds were used for the purchase.
“I don’t think it’s right that the volunteer hours that put money in the groomer account, and the snowmobilers that put money into it, and the people who willed the money, should have to pay for the building twice,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by the Soder family, which owns and operates four businesses in Curtis – the Fish and Hunt Shop, Sunset Pointe Resort, Curtis Service, and Kozy’s Resort – who collectively signed a letter dated January 13, 2023.
“We believe that it is time for this local division and public conflict to end,” the letter read. “The groomer funds and property should be placed where they belong, as these monies come from the state groomer fund and groomer fundraisers. The funds held in the grooming checking account, land, equipment, ownership of the groomer barn, and any requested information asked for by the Curtis Area Trail Association should be handed over to and utilized fully by the Curtis Area Trail Association.”
Fish and Hunt Shop owner Mike Soder said the group letter was penned to help spur the situation to a conclusion. It’s already hurting the local economy, he said, because news of the situation has sparked concern amongst would-be visitors. His store has been receiving calls from people who aren’t sure if they should visit.
Chamber Vice President Mary Gowan said she couldn’t offer any comment on the situation at this time.
The groomers, who were disassociated from working on the Curtis trails in the fall, actually briefly returned to work on the trails in December. Their return was prompted by the departure of Fred Burton, whom the chamber had hired as trail coordinator earlier in December. Burton confirmed he left the position but didn’t want to publicly share what prompted his decision.
PJ Costa, who oversees local trails for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said the groomers have been making progress on the trails, though winter weather conditions have added an additional layer of complication.
“They’re fixing up some of the swamp areas, corduroying it,” Costa said. “They didn’t let anything lapse. There are no dangerous situations.”
Costa said the DNR did close a couple Curtis area trails so they can be worked on.
He also hopes that the new volunteers that stepped forward after Burton was hired will choose to continue to offer help.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into these trails,” Costa said. “I’m hopeful they’ll stick around.”