State trails summit planned in Marquette

MARQUETTE – As part of the quest by the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder to make Michigan the “Trail State,” a summit will be held in Marquette later this month to help continuing efforts to develop a new trail from Belle Isle to Wisconsin.

The trails summit to gather local input will be from 1 to 4 p.m. March 18 in Northern Michigan University’s Bottum University Center.

“Very specifically for the Upper Peninsula, that’s one of the conversations: What do we have now? What do we need? And then, how can we continue along the pathway,” Michigan Department of natural Resources Director Keith Creagh said.

In late November, Snyder said he was directing state agencies to work toward developing a roughly 900-mile signature hiking and biking trail for Michigan, from Belle Isle to Ironwood, including extensive sections across the U.P.

In his message on “Ensuring Our Future: Energy and the Environment” Snyder said Michigan has more total trail miles than just about any other state.

“Much of the credit goes to volunteers who have shoveled, raked, trimmed and groomed these trails on their own time and often at their own expense,” Snyder said. “This shows the real appetite Michiganders have for quality trails and points to the opportunity we have to be the number one trail state.”

Snyder said he was directing the DNR, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, Michigan Snowmobile and Trail Advisory Committee, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Michigan Department of Transportation to align and prioritize their efforts to support and create trail connections.

“All these entities will reach out to local communities as partners, helping them to maximize the economic return from trail use,” Snyder said. “We can and will seek to make Michigan the Trail State.”

As such, Snyder said Michigan needs “a showcase trail that celebrates these efforts and pulls together private and public trails into a signature Pure Michigan experience,” Snyder said. “With the addition of approximately 200 miles of additional trails in the Lower Peninsula and the U.P., we could hike or bike from Belle Isle to the Wisconsin Border.”

Snyder said he was directing the DNR to focus on connecting those trails – which include segments of the Lakeshore Trail and North Country Trail in the U.P. – through cooperation with private and non-profit partners and the use of the department’s own resources.

The trail connections would be developed across a patchwork of state, federal and private lands, with easements necessary in some areas. Cost estimates for the trail were still being developed, along with a name for the trail.

Creagh said work on answering some of the fundamental questions in developing the trail is already under way.

“We have segments of that trail already in place, whether it’s the Upper Peninsula or Lower Peninsula,” Creagh said. “So staff right now is looking at where are those gaps. What do we need to do? How can we partner with, like the (Natural Resources) Trust Fund or other funding mechanisms to make sure we connect those areas?”

DNR Parks and Recreation Division officials said there are probably about 240 miles in gaps.

“We’re going to figure out where the gaps are, what’s single-use, what’s multiple-use, how can we do those connectivities or connections and staff’s working pretty hard on that,” Creagh said.

Michigan owns 4.6 million acres of land, but Snyder and some lawmakers have asked what’s the purpose of that land? Creagh said a portion of the answer is linked to the statewide trail.

“Part of that purpose is the connectivity to communities,” Creagh said. “We have staff right now looking at how we purchased the land, what are restrictions on the land, how can we help with that economic and recreation experience and that’s actually a good conversation to have within our department and with our stakeholders.”

Creagh said the groups Snyder mentioned – along with the Natural Resources Commission, the Nature Conservancy and some other conservancies – met recently in the same room for the first time about the trail.

“We overlaid all the plans and looked at where’s the commonality,” Creagh said. “And so I think we’re further along than what people think.”

Most of the trail would be gravel, although some segments would be paved. Only non-motorized uses would be allowed in some areas, such as the North Country Trail. But in others, snowmobiles may be able to connect to the trail for wintertime use, officials said.

“I think it’s probably going to take the next 12 or 18 months to make some type of request for proposals,” Creagh said.

In some places, infrastructure improvements, including culverts or bridges, would likely be needed. Other costs could include easements or land purchases or swaps requiring legal work.

The DNR estimates if everything goes well, the trail could be completed within the next three to five years.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.