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      The sky is the limit for U.P. snowshoers

      Melanie Brand and her daughters Ella (left) and Aspen (right)

      Snowshoes can be your cure for the winter blues. Melanie Brand enjoys running, but when it gets too snowy or icy, she grabs her snowshoes.

      "Sometimes it's just too icy and too cold to get out there and run, but strap on the snowshoes and you can go anywhere," said Brand, Accounting Assistant for Van Riper State Park.

      She really means anywhere. The U.P. has hundreds of miles of managed pathways for snowshoeing, but the Department of Natural Resources says the sky is the limit, so trailblaze away. On Facebook, Brenda Keto writes, "I snowshoe on my mom's property. We break our own trail. That's where the excercise is. No groomed trails for us!"

      "It's completely legal to snowshoe and hike on unplowed forest roads, so you pretty much have an almost endless supply of hiking and snowshoeing opportunities in the Upper Peninsula," said Ron Yesney, Recreation Specialist for the DNR. The DNR reminds everyone that a recreation passport is needed for entering state parks. They also wish to remind everyone of etiquette on the trails. Snowshoers can cross groomed ski paths, but not snowshoe along them. Dogs are also supposed to be kept off of groomed cross country ski trails.

      If you find yourself without a pair of snowshoes, rentals are easy to come by, like at Northern Michigan University's Physical Education Instructional Facility. Due to a lack of snow, however, rentals have been down so far this season.

      "There is a little bit of disappointment in the weather so far, but fingers crossed, hopefully we'll get some more snow," said Adam Fancher, Outdoor Recreation Center Manager. Rentals are nearly half price if you are a PEIF member.

      Brand and her family snowshoe at Van Riper State Park, which has nearly 10 miles of trails in and around the park. For her and her two daughters, it's a very family-friendly activity.

      "I like snowshoeing with my family and my doggies," said five-year-old Aspen Brand.

      "You get a lot of energy and you have fun, and that's all I can say," added her six-year-old sister, Ella Brand.

      Melanie Brand says it's an exercise like no other, so it's more than just recreation.

      "It's proven that snowshoes can burn more calories than walking, running, or cross country skiing at the same pace," Brand said.

      Van Riper has a lighted snowshoe and cross country ski event on January 19 and February 16 from 6-9 p.m. For questions, call (906) 339-4461. The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has a lantern-lit ski and snowshoe hike every Saturday evening through February 23. They also have a guided snowshoe hike on January 12, 19, and 26 from 1-3 p.m. The Tahquamenon Falls State Park has guided snowshoe hikes at 3 p.m. on February 2, 9, and 23, and the Tahquamenon Snowshoe Race on February 16 at 11 a.m.