To paraphrase the state motto:
"If you seek a beautiful trail to bike, hike or walk, look about you."
Over the last two decades, the number of paved, crushed limestone or gravel recreational trails on mostly public lands in northern Lower Michigan has grown from zero to more than 375 miles.
Today, the region is becoming something of a trail mecca, thanks to state and federal grants, private donations and the advocacy of three nonprofits formed by trail enthusiasts: TART Trails in Traverse City, the Top of Michigan Trails Council in Petoskey and Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail in Benzie County.
Regardless how you measure it — in miles, bicycles strapped on the back of cars or perched on car roof, moms and pops with strollers, joggers, walkers or people in wheelchairs — this summer is a big one in the region for multiuse paths for several reasons:
n The first five miles of the new paved Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail officially opened at a June 20 ribbon cutting. It parallels the back side of the dunes and links the Dune Climb to Glen Haven, D.H. Day campground and Glen Arbor. It is the first national lakeshore trail that allows bicyclists. The 10-foot wide non-motorized path is the first segment of the planned 27-mile Leelanau Scenic Heritage Trail, which will cost an estimated $10 million to build over 10 years. About $6.3 million in public funding and more than $1 million in private and individual donations already have been raised.
- On June 23, the Top of Michigan Trail Council opened the 70-mile Northeastern State Trail (NEST) with simultaneous ribbon cuttings in communities along the way — Alpena, Posen, Hawks, Millersburg, Tower, Aloha and Cheboygan. The packed crushed limestone rail trail connects Alpena and Cheboygan.
- On June 30, Top of Michigan also dedicated the 62-mile multiuse North Central Trail, a 10-foot wide rail trail of packed crushed limestone that links Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Indian River, Topinabee, Cheboygan and Mackinaw City.
- On July 20, TART Trails celebrated closing the "Leelanau Gap," the final 6.5 miles of the Leelanau Trail between Lakeview Hills and Revold roads paved this spring. The 15.5-mile trail extends from Traverse City to Suttons Bay on an old railroad corridor.