By Jim Pruitt
The notion of a loop of paved trails connecting communities in the Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation areas is fast moving from dream to reality.
That is if local residents and businesses will rally to the cause with their cash.
The Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative hosted a public information meeting Oct. 21 at the Chelsea District Library on the concept of the loop. More than 40 people wedged their way into the McKune Room to look at charts and maps and hear from the leaders of the group on the feasibility of the project.
“It’s doable,” group President Jeff Hardcastle said about the project that is estimated to cost between $8 million and $12 million. “If the residents get behind us.”
The Initiative has been helped by the 5 Healthy Towns Foundation who funneled seed money to get the project off the ground. Several companies and individuals have made donations ranging from $7,500 to more than $25,000.
Now is the time for local residents to get involved and support the trails.
“We have an opportunity to apply for some significant grants (from the state), Initiative Vice President Tim Eder said. “We have to demonstrate a local base of support. We hope you will help us with this.”
The Pathways group has already secured the backing of the Legacy Land Conservancy, which is acting as the group’s fiduciary agent; The Big 400, the 5H Foundation (formerly the Chelsea Area Wellness Foundation), Washtenaw County, the Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“They (MDOT) have been supportive, they are looking for communities with a plan,” Hardcastle said. “We have found a lot of partners.”
The idea for the loop came out of the battle to stop a sand mine in the Pinckney Recreation Area, Eder said.
“A number of us who stopped the sand mind came to appreciate what we had,” Eder said.
The timing could not be better to get state help with the trails as Gov. Rick Snyder is championing a statewide trail called the Iron-Belle Trail, which would link Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle in Detroit.
The plan to add 19.8 miles of new ADA-compliant paved trails would create a 44-mile loop connecting the Lakeland State Trail between Stockbridge and Gregory and the Border to Border Trail in Dexter, to Chelsea. The loop would be unique in the state and a surefire draw for cyclists and walkers.
It has been documented the area enjoys a $20 million economic benefit already, Eder said. There is a realistic expectation for more as the loop would also connect with mountain bike trails under construction in the Waterloo Recreation Area.
The group plans to request $1.7 million from the Michigan Department of Transportation to build the first leg, a 4.7-mile stretch from N. Territorial Road to Werkner Road. The state will release the list of recipients by Jan. 14.
The state won’t hand out all the money at once and that’s a good thing as there would be no way the group could spend it all in one year, Hardcastle said. Instead, he expects the money to be awarded over a four- to five-year period.
The group invited former Dexter Village Council member and longtime member of the Huron River Watershed Council, Paul Cousins, to come and share the benefits Dexter enjoys from its work to create trails after clearing Mill Creek of a dam, trees and sediment.
The city has reaped a harvest of economic benefits as cyclists and canoeists flock the area to take advantage of the Border to Border trail and the waterway. The city hosts “Yoga in the Park” on Saturdays during the summer and anglers come for the trout which was added four years ago, Cousins.
“When they come, they park their cars,” Cousins said about visitors. The city has added an art fair, Plein Air which draws people in from Canada and Missouri to come and paint landscapes around town along many of the trails.
The link between Chelsea and Dexter is also a link to the area’s past. The likely route would be along a right-of-way south of Dexter-Chelsea Road for a long-forgotten interurban railway that never came to pass, known as the Boland Right of Way.
To make the hope of economic bonanza come to fruition, Eder stressed the need for locals to make a commitment to financially support the trail. The local component is needed to show the state the area will be able to maintain the trails as the rural townships don’t possess the resources to do the work.
Corporate and Foundation donations have three thresholds: Heritage, $25,000; Mile Posts, $15,000 and Pathway Partners, $7,500.
Individual donors can donate $30 and families $50. For more information, please click here.
“We need to raise $1 million to $1.5 million,” Hardcastle said. “We have between $400,000 and $500,000.”
(If you would like to contact James Pruitt, please email him at [email protected].)