Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

June 15, 2014

Riders celebrate 50 years of cross-state riding


TRAVERSE CITY — Breaking a trail from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron would require enormous political clout and connections, not to mention 220 miles of back-breaking labor. They say it couldn’t be done today.

Yet six friends from Traverse City hatched the idea during their weekly gatherings more than 50 years ago and completed the feat in just a few years.

Constructing a shore-to-shore horse and hiking trail across Michigan was no simple task even decades ago, says Phyllis Garn.

Garn, 91, leafed through albums packed with pictures of her late husband Rex and dozens of the early volunteers who pledged their sweat, political connections and private land to the effort. She is the lone surviving member of the small group of friends who dreamed of and built the trail.

“It was just a lot of work at first,” she said, her hand brushing over a black-and-white photo of a herd of men heaving an outhouse onto a newly-constructed foundation. “We were talking to everybody. People heard about us and they came in droves to help. We had a lot to do, it wasn’t just riding.”

The 220-mile Shore-to-Shore Trail was inspired and executed by the Garns and their friends, Fitch and Louise Williams and Tony and Sally Wilhelm. The three couples started their quest in the early 1960s and completed the project in 1964 when then Gov. George Romney rode a white horse at a trail dedication in Kalkaska.

“I guess we were just optimists,” Garn said.

The matriarch of the former Rex Ranch worked alongside her husband to strike the trail but she never made an entire coast-to-coast ride. She spent most of her time managing the couple’s stables near Traverse City and arranging pack trips for customers, she said.

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