A dedicated walking/biking trail between Acme and Elk Rapids would bring business to both communities. And it would provide the next big step toward the dream of an expansive non-motorized trail system that eventually could link Suttons Bay, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Petoskey, Mackinaw City and Alpena.

Trail engineers at a recent public open house explained that they envision the Elk Rapids-to-Acme segment running mostly along the west side of U.S. 31. Alternate routes farther inland promised better scenery — but also more planning and permissions obstacles. Even with most of the route inside the highway right-of-way, it will take time, effort and cooperation to settle the details.

The result will be worth the effort.

Not everyone will use the new trail. But summer traffic along the TART and Leelanau Trails suggest the new trail won’t be empty. Far from it. Existing non-motorized trails are heavily used not only in summer, but also in autumn and spring. Suttons Bay has witnessed a surge in bicycle traffic in the years since the Leelanau Trail reached it. Sweaty but happy bikers fan out through town to sip cool drinks, bite into cherry chicken sandwiches and shop for souvenirs.

Elk Rapids is sure to see an influx of bicycle-mounted visitors as soon as the new trail segment becomes reality. They’ll bring healthy appetites for not only food, but for the special experiences — beach, marina, downtown charm — the village can provide.

Acme, too, will benefit from the extension. The TART trail currently ends rather abruptly up the hill a couple of blocks from Grand Traverse Bay. Extending the trail system to Elk Rapids will bring more riders through Acme. We hope trail designers can link the non-motorized trail to Acme Township’s newly refurbished Bayside Park, and to the Elk Rapids Day Park, home to an extensive sculpture garden.

Businesses in both communities will see more traffic — but the traffic will be pedaling bicycles instead of rolling inside air-conditioned SUVs.

Both communities will see even bigger benefits in the future if the non-motorized trail eventually extends to Charlevoix. That’s the southern terminus of the Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile bicycle trail that winds through Petoskey to Harbor Springs.

Long bike trails attract muscular bicyclists who crave challenges. They also attract families who seek healthy outdoor activities.

Local riders can tackle a long trail in bite-size chunks, sections of trail just long enough to offer a sense of accomplishment. The 10-mile stretch between Acme and Elk Rapids would offer an ideal bicycling challenge.

TART Trails is partnering with Top of Michigan Trails Council and Networks Northwest to facilitate Acme-to-Elk Rapids trail design and construction. Public comment forms and more information are available at www.TraverseCitytoCharlevoixTrail.org.