When the Northeast State Trail from Alpena to Cheboygan was opening, the trail manager went to each of the twenty-two communities along the trail to ask for grants needed to match state and federal funds. “There was tremendous support,” says Jeff Winegard, executive director of Top of Michigan Trails Council. “Those rural communities don’t have a lot of money, but they saw all the ways the trail would benefit their area. Trail development is a great example of how governments work in partnership with non-profit organizations and local citizens.”
Michigan has the largest network of rail trails in the country. Top of Michigan Trails Council is helping that effort by empowering and supporting the efforts of local trail groups and providing guidance to trail communities throughout the state on how to market themselves as trail-friendly destinations for tourists.
“We don’t have to do anything to the out-of-doors except make it accessible,” says Jeff, of the spectacular geography and postcard scenery that draws thousands to the trails each year. The Little Traverse Wheelway, for example, is a 26-mile paved trail that connects Charlevoix and Harbor Springs, and includes a boardwalk through wetlands rich with wildlife, roadside parks and access to Lake Michigan at several points.
Some trails are converted from abandon railways. Others are developed on road right-of-ways or across private lands. Even skeptics become big supporters. “They see that trails enhance property values and provide a safe environment off the shoulders of roads where kids and families can walk and ride bikes,” says Jeff. “Trails provide healthy exercise. They connect parks and communities, and they offer an alternative route for people to get to work. Studies have shown that trails also attract new residents and can rank higher than golf courses in desired assets in a community!”