Start with a sunrise or end with a sunset. Cyclists on the state’s newest long-distance cycling trail can dip their toes — or tires — in the sand, ride for miles under a canopy of trees, say hello to grazing cattle and smell the fresh farm air. They can stop off for lunch and a wine tasting or stay overnight and explore the historic rail towns that once linked communities.
The 275-mile Great Lake-to-Lake Trails Route 1 runs from South Haven to Port Huron, passing by rolling farmland, urban attractions and historic points of interest. Route 1 is the culmination of a decadelong effort by the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance to raise funds and awareness about the trail and coordinate efforts to connect various communities and trail systems across the state. Organizers believe the five planned Great Lake-to-Lake Trails will draw tourists and outdoor enthusiasts from near and far, and focus national attention on the state’s innovative trail system.
Departing from the shores of Lake Michigan or Lake Huron, cyclists can set out for a weekend ride or a weeklong vacation while exploring the communities of South Haven, Kalamazoo, Augusta, Battle Creek, Jackson, Brighton, Pontiac, Rochester Hills and Port Huron.
“A big chunk of it is parallel with Amtrak, so you can start your journey in Kalamazoo, ride all the way to Port Huron and take the train back,” said Bob Wilson, executive director of Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.
Route 1 visits 34 communities, offering easy access points and varying terrain, and winds its way by vineyards and farmland, rambling woods and waters, and urban centers in the eastern region. The trail is both a historical and a sightseeing adventure.
Many segments follow abandoned rail corridors and markers highlight unique facts and history. The route includes a mix of paved trail, gravel, crushed limestone and roads. There are a few stretches yet to connect so riders are not on main roads.
“A lot of the trail has this beauty of a canopy of trees over it,” Wilson said. “Most of the trail is relatively flat … There is a lot of water along the trail, wetlands and rivers and lakes. You don’t just get exposed to natural resources, but you get exposed to the history of the area.”
For instance, in the 1930s, the town of Bloomingdale was the most active oil and gas town in the state. The historic depot now is a museum on the trail, which is drawing more visitors to the community, Wilson said.
The idea for the Great Lake-to-Lake Trails began in 2009 with several grants and key donations. Route 1’s completion linked individual trail systems in nine counties, 34 municipalities and 42 townships. Wilson credits philanthropist and Pinckney resident Mike Levine and a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation for spurring Route 1’s completion. Now in his 80s and legally blind, Levine joined trail officials on the inaugural ride last fall. A 34-mile segment from Stockbridge to Hamburg Township is named after him.
— Marla R. Miller, Michigan BLUE Magazine.
*Photography courtesy Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance