Enhancing Michigan’s amazing network of recreational trails: Part 1

The state of Michigan is nearing completion on a state trail plan to improve the long range enjoyment of Michigan’s vast and beautiful trail system.

What does it mean when we say Michigan has over 12,000 miles of designated trails? Michigan Department of Natural Resources Recreation Specialist Paige Perry summed it up this way. To some, trails are just a noun: a path, a route or a corridor posted as open for travel for certain modes of transportation. For others, trail is a verb: an opportunity, an experience, including such diverse ends as solitude, companionship, recreation, challenge, appreciation of nature, or achieving renewal of body, mind or spirit. So, achieving some level of agreement on how to manage those 12,000 miles of trails is a big task.

In August 2013, the Michigan Northern Counties Association (MNCA), a group of county commissioners representing about 30 counties in the northern lower peninsula, learned about efforts by the MDNR and a coalition of other governments and groups to enhance trail users experiences across the state. Michigan State University Extension assists the MNCA with educational program planning.

Michigan Trails

MDNR Recreation Specialists Paige Perry and Todd Neiss opened the presentation with information about the current trails, and the state trail plan, which is under development. Denise Cline, Northeast Michigan Council of Governments, talked about the efforts of a large coalition of governments, agencies, businesses, and other organization that are working together to promote usage, provide information, and encourage connections from trails to businesses.

An Executive Order in 2009 created the Michigan Snowmobile and Trails Advisory Council, with an equine trailways subcommittee and advisory workgroups for snowmobiles, ORVs and non-motorized users such as hiking and biking. Act 45 of 2010, passed by the legislature, assigns MSTAC to provide recommendations to the DNR for a statewide trail network. Subcommittee work and public comment have resulted in a final version which was delivered to the DNR in May 2013. The DNR has a year to prepare the final plan. The hope is to have a final draft ready for public review in October 2013 and approval of the DNR Director in November 2013.

The plan contains seven recommendations:

  1. Maintain trails using established guidelines to ensure a sustainable and quality trail system.
  2. Expand trails, trail experiences and opportunities to ensure access to trail systems, outdoor recreation opportunities and to Michigan’s treasured natural and cultural resources.
  3. MSTAC leads the effort to maintain and enhance Michigan’s reputation as “THE TRAIL STATE.”
  4. Link trails, trail users and adjoining towns to create memorable trail experiences and enhance local prosperity.
  5. Develop, enhance, and celebrate partnerships and collaborations to acquire, develop and maintain trails and trail connections.
  6. Create and implement a statewide marketing plan that engages residents and guests in the state’s vast array of trail opportunities.
  7. Develop funding sources and mechanisms for trail maintenance and to fill funding gaps for acquisition and development.

Part Two of this article will explore the Governor’s efforts to create a statewide bicycle trail, and the efforts of a group of northern lower peninsula governments, agencies and businesses called Up North Trails, to create a valuable information tool about Michigan trail systems and nearby communities.