Blazing new trails

Aided by community outreach from the National Park Service, new pathways in Michigan are making the great outdoors greater.
Manitou Immerse Trail 3 BIkers Don Miller Photography
Manitou Immerse Trail 3 BIkers - Photography courtesy Don Miller

By Bill Semion

All it took for Barbara Nelson-Jameson to realize that her work made a difference was meeting a 90-year-old with a walker and a grandmother pedaling her grandson behind in a bike trailer along the partially completed Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. 

“She was riding the trail and had stopped at the dune climb. She said, ‘Boy, this is wonderful, and I don’t know who to thank,” said Nelson-Jameson, Michigan program director for the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) of the National Park Service.

 “I ran into the 90-year-old local resident who was actually using his walker to enjoy the trail — he told me he couldn’t experience the Lakeshore like that before,” she added. “It’s really amazing, the impact.”

Nelson-Jameson and other RTCA staff in Michigan help communities plan, organize partnerships and achieve on-the-ground success of outdoor recreation projects they initiate around the state, as well as help multiple community groups and local, state and federal agencies protect natural areas and water resources.

The outside perspective RTCA offers also includes experience from a database of hundreds of projects and thousands of partners from around the nation.

Annually, the RTCA is helping develop 1,500 miles of trails, protect 1,000 miles of river access and preserve 60,000 acres of open space nationwide. In Michigan, 2013 efforts underway include:

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.  This paved, 27-mile route paralleling M-22 from the Leelanau/Benzie County line to Good Harbor Bay is being developed with the Michigan Department of Transportation, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, TART Trails, Inc., the National Lakeshore, Glen Arbor, Empire and local businesses. Currently, 4.2 miles link the Lakeshore’s popular dune climb and points between with Glen Arbor. By 2014, another five miles will connect to Empire.

The Bay to Bay Paddle/Backpack Trail. This planned 35-mile water route and backcountry footpath in partnership with Friends of Sleeping Bear — part of the 1,640-mile, four-state Lake Michigan Water Trail Initiative — will run the length of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore coast line near Lake Michigan from Platte Bay in the south to Good Harbor Bay in the north.

Copper Country Heritage Trail.  Inspired by the region’s copper mining heritage, this 40-mile motorized and non-motorized multiple use rail corridor being developed with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Keweenaw National Historical Park will link the historic communities of Hancock, Lake Linden and Calumet.

Fred Meijer River Valley Trails. A 127-mile network comprising the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, Flat River Valley Rail Trail, Grand River Valley Rail Trail and Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Rail Trail will connect Alma, Greenville, Belding, Lowell, Ionia and Owosso. The Heartland Trail is already complete.

Each of these and similar other projects expands Michigan’s reputation as the Trail State, adding to the 2,600 miles already open. It’s a vision shared by Gov. Rick Snyder that includes a cycling/hiking trail from Detroit to Wisconsin. Collectively, Nelson-Jameson said, all are designed to enhance tourism and encourage turning off the TV and computer and getting outside.  

“If people aren’t connected to nature, they don’t value it,” she noted. “Trails help make those connections and create another generation of stewards of the land and natural resources.”

Learn more about local efforts at

Freelance writer Bill Semion resides near Roscommon.

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