By Howard Meyerson
Two popular west Michigan rail-trails are scheduled for major work this summer. The 22.6-mile William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail will be widened and repaved while two unfinished sections of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, just over 40 miles, will be surfaced with crushed limestone.
“The Hart-Montague has reached its lifespan – it’s over 20 years old – and it has gotten to the point that it needs to be redone,” said Matt Lincoln, grants coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The project is expected to cost $4.45 million. “The paved portion is now eight feet wide and we plan to make it 10 feet wide with two feet of clear space on each side.”
Construction is expected to start mid-June, according to Annamarie Bauer, the agency’s development planner for state parks. It will take place in segments and portions of the trail will be closed during construction.
“Our goal is to have the work completed by November 2015,” Bauer said. “We’re going out for bids a little later than planned. They (the contractors) will have to close sections as the work is done, but our goal is for the other sections to stay open.”
The Hart-Montague Trail was dedicated in 1989. It is Michigan’s first paved rail-trail. The trails were built narrower then and to different specifications, according to Lincoln. Users now complain about its highly worn surface.
More cyclists expected
Hart City Manager, Stan Rickard, called the reconstruction “a golden opportunity.” Traffic on the trail has diminished over the years due to its condition. He anticipates a resurgence of interest once the reconstruction is complete.
“I met two people last summer who love the trail, but their friends don’t come any more. That hurts because you know it will be repeated many times,” Rickard said. “People will miss it this coming summer, but I think the Grand Opening in the spring of 2016 (after reconstruction) will be a huge success.”
Jake Whelpley, owner of The Woodshed Bike Shop in Mears, agrees. His shop caters to cyclists that use the trail.
“I think traffic will pick up again. A lot of people stopped coming because it was so rough,” said Whelpley, who contributed $4,000 towards local fund-raising efforts for the project. “Repaving it will be good.”
White Pine Surface
White Pine Trail State Park, extending 92-miles from Comstock Park to Cadillac, is often referred to as “the I-75 of Michigan’s (117) rail trails.” Members of the grassroots group, Friends of the White Pine Trail, are less than enamored about the DNR’s plans. The agency intends to surface the sections from LeRoy to Reed City, and Big Rapids to Sand Lake, with crushed limestone rather than asphalt like the rest of the trail. Construction is expected to start in July.
Using limestone saves $4 million and gets the job done, according to trail planners. The 40-mile surfacing project is expected to cost $4.1 million. Asphalt paving would cost $8 million.
“The DNR decided to gravel the rest of this trail and that has people upset,” said Dave Heyboer, president of the Friends of the White Pine Trail. “Not the general user so much, but the long-distance riders think it’s a waste of money. Using gravel will add no additional benefit. “It won’t bring long-distance riders in, or the hand-cyclist or mothers with strollers or roller-blades.”
Crushed limestone was chosen because it costs less, lasts longer and doesn’t require as much maintenance, Bauer said. It is now the “go-to” surface for many state trails and was used to surface the 61-mile North Central Trail from Cheboygan to Gaylord, the 71-mile Northeastern State Trail from Cheboygan to Alpena, and others.
“Crushed limestone is acceptable to the majority of users,” Bauer said. “It can be used by most of the recreational public. If funding comes available to upgrade to asphalt, the department would be open to it, but it’s nothing something we’re pursuing.”
Pellow said the Meijer Foundation was consulted about the limestone decision. The late-Fred Meijer pledged $1 million in 2005 for paving the entire trail.
“A representative of the foundation went to other (limestone) trails, like the Kal-Haven, and talked with people who use it,” Pellow said. “As a result they contributed $400,000 (the remaining balance from the $1 million pledge) and offered another $211,000, on a 1:1 match basis for this project. We’re doing presentations about it to local townships and boards along the trail.”
Appears in MLive Media Group Newspapers and MLive Outdoors.