Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Steve Smedes of Traverse City reaches the top of a hill while riding on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail between Empire and Glen Arbor in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

EMPIRE — Several new benches will provide spots for those hiking the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail to stop and smell the wildflowers, while preliminary design work for the final section of the trail is expected to finish up later this month.

In Traverse City bids are being sought for the first section of the Boardman Lake Loop Trail, which loops off the main trail at 14th Street.

The Heritage Trail is about 22 miles long, starting in Empire and ending at CR 669 — Bohemian Road — in Cleveland Township. The new section will end at CR 651 — Good Harbor Trail. The trail is not yet funded and construction is not expected to start until 2020 or ‘21, said Julie Clark, executive director of TART Trails.

After the first section opened in 2012, users were asked what they’d like to see on the trail. The answer was more benches, the first of which was installed in 2015 in Glen Haven. Eight new benches were recently installed, bringing the total number to 14.

All 14 were built by Ken Rosiek, a volunteer and trail ambassador with Friends of Sleeping Bear — the group that maintains the trail. Rosiek and former Friends board chair Leonard Marszalek came up with a bench prototype that was built and installed in 2015 in Glen Haven.

That original design was later tweaked, with the end result being a bench that is sturdy and requires little maintenance.

Rosiek, a retired automotive engineer, says carpentry is his winter hobby.

“I like to volunteer for stuff and I like making things,” Rosiek said. “And people are enjoying the benches, from what I hear, so that makes me feel good.”

The Friends have been working on improving accessibility on park trails, so the benches are located on a pad that lets someone using a wheelchair pull up next to the bench and sit alongside a companion.

A grant from Northwest Michigan Health made the new benches possible and YouthWork, a Traverse City Child and Family Services program, installed them this spring.

The last leg of the Heritage Trail is being designed by the Petoskey-based OHM. Those plans are expected to be finalized later this month by a SBD Heritage Trail work-study group and will be shared with the public at an open house that will likely be held in August, said Timothy J. Stein, Cleveland Township supervisor.

Once the design is approved fundraising will start, Stein said.

The 1.8-mile Boardman Lake Loop Trail will run from 14th Street to Medalie Park at the south end of the lake. The first section from 14th Street to the Northwestern Michigan College University Center on Dendrinos Drive is currently out for bid, with bids being taken until July 12.

The Michigan Department of Transportation project is partially funded by a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant that uses federal dollars to fund things that encourage people to get out of their vehicles.

The cost of the entire 1.8 mile trail addition is projected at $1.6 million, Clark said.

“It’s challenged by topography,” she said. “It’s also got some park elements to it.”

Construction will include retaining walls — which Clark said are very expensive to build — stairs, decking and overlooks.