Manistee County Trail System Benefits from Grants and Collaborations

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MANISTEE COUNTY – A shared vision to connect communities in Manistee County and area through the development of a multi-use trail network is taking shape through the collaboration of partners and an injection of more than 1.7 million dollars.

The EDA grant was awarded under the Travel, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation program funded by the US rescue plan. The foundation’s $347,820 grant was made possible by the Minger Family Endowment Fund and is the largest single grant in the foundation’s 35-year history.

“The Manistee County Community Foundation is thrilled to make this historic investment in our community, which was made possible through a remarkable real estate donation from Forest R. Minger Jr.,” said Laura Heintzelman, president and CEO of the Manistee County Community Foundation, in a press release. “We are honored to continue to build Mr. Minger’s legacy through this grant which has helped mobilize significant additional funding and galvanize community partners around a shared vision to expand access to recreation.

The two grants, totaling $1,739,100, will support trail development efforts in northern Manistee County and part of Benzie County, including improvements to a 3-mile section of the Betsie Valley State Trail that connects Thompsonville and Copemish.

Rob Carson, regional director of community development for Networks Northwest, said this section is currently a snowmobile trail, but the upgrades will open up more recreational opportunities.

“It’s just an abandoned railroad bed. The (Benzie-Manistee) Snowbirds (Snowmobile Club) maintain it over the winter and snowmobiles use it, but it has a very rough surface,” he said. “Improvements will include the placement of approximately 8 inches of underlay material and then on top of that…there will be the placement of 3-4 inches of crushed limestone with fines. Limestone ground with fines creates a very even surface for cycling and walking.”

Other trail improvements will include improved crosswalks, trailheads and signage to allow for greater use of snowmobiles, pedestrians and other non-motorized vehicles.

“The gates will be similar to what they have placed along the road between the village of Kaleva and Chief (Road), where bikers can pass through, and then the gates will be unlocked and opened during the winter months so that riders can groomers can pass and snowmobiles can use the trail,” Carson said. “…Everything will be swept along the sides of the road. We will be opening up the trail corridor more than it currently is.”

The funding will also allow for the construction of a bridge on a separate trail segment between Thompsonville and Kaleva, which would cross Bear Creek in Springdale Township.

“The old railroad bridge that crossed Bear Creek was abandoned years ago and it was ripped out – I don’t know – probably 30 or 40 years ago. This will place a clear span bridge – and that what I mean by clear span is there will be no pylons in the creek,” Carson said. “It will completely cover the river corridor from bank to bank. It will be a steel bridge. … As soon as this bridge is built and construction is complete, this road will be available for use by snowmobiles immediately the following season. “

Carson said now that the ball is rolling, he hopes to see the trail network continue to grow.

“I hope this carries momentum to really connect the trail corridor to Onekama, down to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians border of the tribal reservation and then continuing to the town of Manistee,” he said.

Community members in Manistee County expressed strong interest in trail development, including support for snowmobile trails as well as non-motorized trails during the public engagement process to develop the parks plan and Manistee County-wide Recreation Center, which was established in 2016, and have strengthened their support. when the plan was updated in 2022.

The Manistee County Board of Commissioners established a Parks and Recreation Commission to advise on recreation issues and provide a streamlined approach to seeking funding to support trail development. Moreover, the Friends of SMARTrails, a tax-exempt non-profit organization, was formed to advocate for trail development and assist with fundraising and trail maintenance. The trail development effort is also actively supported by the DNR; North-West networks; Benzie-Manistee Snowbirds; Little River Band of Ottawa Indians; Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail; Benzie County Recreation Commission; and many other local, regional, state and federal entities.

Carson said construction is expected to take place next summer.

“Since this is a federal grant, there are a number of provisions that we have to follow for the whole process,” he said. “We need to issue a formal RFP so that we can launch a bidding process and have companies respond what their qualifications are and what they would be able to achieve in terms of funding allocation.”

Carson said once the company is selected and the contracts executed, there will be a process of acquiring permits for things like soil erosion and bridge construction.

“There will also be a wetland permit that will need to be acquired from (the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy), due to the potential slight impact to wetlands around the location. where the bridge is placed over Bear Creek,” he said. . “Once these permits have been acquired and all of the design drawings completed, construction would begin. I imagine this will be completed in the summer of 2023 and hopefully it will be open before the end of summer.”

Carson said many people and entities have worked to expand the trail system and the hard work is paying off.

“It would be great to look at the road here in a few years and see the city of Manistee connected to Frankfort, connected to Traverse City, and connected to Cadillac, so that individuals can hike, bike, and snowmobile between all these communities and the smaller communities in between,” he said. “…We are grateful to all the volunteers in the area who have given their time to make this vision a reality. We hope residents and visitors will really appreciate the assets once they are in place.”

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