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Great Lakes Trails: Relief funds spark new investments into outdoor recreation

Great Lakes Trails: Relief funds spark new investments into outdoor recreation
July 7, 2021 Noah Bock
As a new national park, the Indiana Dunes gets more visitors to its beaches and trails.

With a rebounding economy and plenty of federal relief funds, states across the country are finding themselves with extra money to spend.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer yesterday announced a proposal to spend $150 million of relief funds from the American Rescue Plan on state and local parks and trails. That’s in addition to the $250 million investment in state parks and trails already proposed in June.

Andrea LaFontaine, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, says that the COVID-19 pandemic showed outdoor recreation assets like trails are worth investing in.

“Last year, Michiganders showed up in droves to their local parks and trails,” she said. “They were demonstrating the importance of these outdoor places in their time of need – and making it clear that they use these parks, trails and open spaces to invest in their own physical and mental health.”


Watch Great Lakes Now‘s segment on the spike in park visitation:


The MTGA advocates for non-motorized trails by helping communities develop, maintain and connect their trail networks. Lately, they’ve been focusing on connecting existing trails into larger networks.

“We try to encourage people to zoom out and look beyond their community border, and see where their trail can connect to, because if you’re a user on a trail, you might want to go further than your municipal border,” LaFontaine said. “You don’t want that trail to end, you want to just keep going. We really shifted our focus to trying to zoom out and look at connections.”

There are thousands of non-motorized trails around the Great Lakes region, from traditional hiking and biking routes to equestrian trails. Water trails are becoming more popular, providing paddlers with designated routes for traversing the region’s lakes and streams.

“I think those will be the next up-and-coming trends,” LaFontaine said. “Land trails will always be there and continue to develop, but water trails are really starting to catch some attention.”

Mountain biking trails have grown in popularity recently as well. The Michigan Dragon Trail and Minnesota’s Redhead Mountain Bike Park are a few of the many mountain biking trail networks that are seeing significant development this year.

In Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, the Baileys Trail System is a planned 88-mile mountain bike optimized trail system. Twenty-six miles are already open to the public, and an additional 5 miles are under construction this year. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced a $2 million investment to complete the trail, which will make it the longest contiguous mountain bike system east of the Mississippi.


Related stories on Great Lakes Now:

Second Spike: Great Lakes parks anticipate increased visitation this summer

Summertime Spike: Great Lakes parks a source of balm and vexation for many during COVID-19

Outdoor Escape: Visitors flock to parks, beaches, lakes as states reopen


Jessie Powers is the executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia, the organization managing the development of the Baileys Trail System. Powers says that non-motorized trails have important economic benefits, particularly for rural areas.

“Outdoor recreation is a way to do sustainable economic development and diversification in rural communities,” she said. “That’s very important here, there’s a genuine lack of economic opportunity, a lack of access to what few opportunities there are for the most vulnerable.”

The trails have physical and mental health benefits as well. A study commissioned by the Huron-Clinton Metroparks found that physical exercise on the trails saved the average adult $1,250 per year in health care costs, and for adults over 64, those savings are doubled.

But beyond that, it’s simply a fun thing to do, Powers said.

“It’s insane the amount of natural resources we have at our fingertips and surrounding us, whether it be water, parks, trails, open space,” LaFontaine said. “We have so many opportunities.”

Great Lakes Now has compiled a list of some of those non-motorized trail opportunities from around the Great Lakes region.

Some of the planned projects have segments that are already open to the public, so those looking to explore a trail are encouraged to check the project website for the most up-to-date information. TrailLink and AllTrails are also useful resources for discovering new trails.


Here’s a map with all the trails. Scroll down for the full list.


Illinois | Indiana | Michigan | Minnesota | New York | Ohio | Ontario | Pennsylvania | Wisconsin | National (U.S.)

Illinois:

Planned

Governor J.B. Pritzker announced nearly $106 million in new projects through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. Nearly 100 communities around the state will see projects.

Indiana:

New

1.5 miles of the planned Marquette Greenway was opened in Burns Harbor on June 4th, 2021. The multi-use asphalt trail is part of a planned greenway that will stretch 50 miles from New Buffalo, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois along the shore of Lake Michigan and include Indiana Dunes National Park.

With plans to expand in the future, mountain biking trail covers 2.9 miles in Marshall County. Trails for basic and intermediate skill levels are available.

Planned

An additional mile of multi-use trail will extend the recently completed segment in Burns Harbor into Indiana Dunes National Park.

Michigan:

New

The full 11 miles of mountain-biking and running trails was completed with the grand opening of 5 new miles of trail on June 19th, 2021.

Paddlers can explore over 100 miles of water trails on interconnected lakes and rivers in Antrim County. Signage on the banks guides paddlers along, and several suggested routes are available.

Planned

The paved, multi-use Air Line Trail currently stretches 5.5 miles from Wixom Road to Haggerty Road in Oakland County. The planned 2.4-mile extension will stretch from Wixom Road to Old Plank Road, connecting the Air Line Trail to the Huron Valley Trail.

While 4 miles of trail is already open for public use, an additional mile is currently under construction and will complete the 5-mile loop around Boardman Lake. Expected completion 2022.

Five routes across both of Michigan’s peninsulas are planned, with Route #1 from South Haven to Port Huron around 75% complete. An inaugural ride was held in 2019, but several gaps remain.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments envisions a network of greenways and blueways stretching from Lake Huron south to the Ohio border, connecting significant southeast Michigan points of interest.

When completed, the Iron Belle Trail will stretch more than 2,000 miles from Belle Isle to Ironwood. Both the bicycle and hiking routes are around 65% completed.

The planned 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway will connect the Detroit Riverfront, Highland Park, Dearborn, and Hamtramck, while incorporating the existing Dequindre Cut and Detroit Riverwalk. Ground was broken on Phase 1 this year, and completion is not expected for another 10 years.

14.6 miles of pedestrian and mountain biking trails are already open, and an additional 10 miles will be added this year.

The paved non-motorized path will stretch .67 miles and connect Corktown, Southwest Detroit, and the West Riverfront as part of the much larger Joe Louis Greenway Project. Expected completion 2022.

Minnesota:

New

10 additional miles of hiking and mountain biking trails opened to the public on June 26th, 2021. 15 miles of trails were already open to the public.

New York:

Planned

Plans are in the works to extend the Niagara River Greenway trail along the shore of Lake Ontario, eventually stretching from Niagara Falls to Youngstown before following the shore of Lake Ontario.

Ohio:

New

4 miles of multi-use trail in downtown Cleveland was completed with the opening of the 1.2-mile trail connecting Edgewater Park and Wendy Park and a bridge connecting Wendy Park to downtown Cleveland. Opened June 24th, 2021.

The northernmost section of the Ohio and Erie Towpath Tail opened in Cleveland on June 9th, 2021. The multi-use trail connected Cleveland’s trail system with the existing towpath, meaning 93 miles of trail are now complete.

An additional 5 miles of the North Coast Inland Trail was completed his year in Ottawa County, connecting Genoa and Elmore. The North Coast Inland Trail currently spans several counties and will eventually stretch from Lorain to Toledo.

Planned

88 miles of mountain bike optimized trail are planned in Athens County. Twenty-six miles are currently open, and 5 additional miles are under construction this year.

When completed, the Beechmont Bridge Connector will connect the 78-mile Little Miami Scenic Trail to the Lunken Airport Bike Trail and the Ohio River Trail, providing the last piece of a trail network that will connect Cincinatti and Cleveland. Expected completion 2022.

Ontario:

New

The new 2-kilometer  trail runs through Brampton, providing connection between Mississauga and Caledon on the Etobicoke Creek Recreational Trail. Users can now travel from the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail to the Greenbelt Trail in Caledon.

Planned

The Tecumseh town council approved a 2.4-kilometer paved trail along Riverside Drive, connecting the Ganatchio Trail to the trail system at Lakewood Park North.

Pennsylvania:

Planned

A 3-mile extension to the Tredway River Trail along the Allegheny River is in the works. When completed, the full trail will stretch 8 miles, and completion is expected in early 2022.

Wisconsin:

Planned

When completed, this 700-mile trail network will connect Milwaukee and other communities in southeast Wisconsin. 340 miles of trail are already existing.

National (U.S.):

Planned

When completed, the Great American Rail Trail will stretch 3,700 miles through 12 states from the District of Columbia to Washington. More than 53% of the trail is currently completed.


Featured image: As a new national park, the Indiana Dunes gets more visitors to its beaches and trails. (Great Lakes Now Episode 1004)

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