Lake Michigan boasts 1,640 miles of shoreline in four states, including about 1,000 in Michigan, says Western Michigan University’s Dr. Dave Lemberg. Despite this unmatched natural wealth and tourism opportunities, he notes, no organized long-distance recreational trail exists that links these Great Lakes states.
The associate professor of geography is working with a variety of groups to change that. He recently completed a year’s sabbatical that included traveling and taking an inventory of more than 300 access points and highlights throughout each of the four states in hopes of developing a multi-modal kayak, biking/hiking and motor trail along the entire Lake Michigan shore.
“Our goal is to work with participants from the four states to establish a long-distance recreational trail, similar in scope to the Appalachian Trail, but one that highlights the vast natural beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline and the many historic, recreational, and cultural offerings along its coast,” Lemberg explains.
Unlike the Appalachian Trail, Lake Michigan is easy to get on and off and offers changing scenery and topography almost every step of the way.
Three-and-a-half-million visitors use the Appalachian Trail annually, he says. The proposed Lake Michigan trail would bring new people and new opportunities to waterfront communities along the lake, but, “Unlike the Appalachian Trail, Lake Michigan is easy to get on and off and offers changing scenery and topography almost every step of the way.”
Lemberg calls the envisioned trail “absolutely unique,” pointing out that “there’s everything from downtown Chicago to total wilderness over the course of the route.”
“It’s something you could do at any age,” he adds, noting it could be as strenuous or as easy as you want it to be depending on your mode of transportation.
While tourism professionals and planners have been working independently for years, there has been little attempt to integrate regional and independent efforts until now, he says. Joint marketing would benefit all of the states and communities around the lake, he says. “The infrastructure already exists. We just have to pull it all together and promote it.”
Future plans include cell phone apps, Lake Michigan Trail passports and more. Follow-up meetings are planned and the team is hoping to have the trail up and running in a few years.
To learn more, visit the Lake Michigan Water Trail Association at lmwt.org.