Feb. 15 2017 12:39 AM

County weighs proposals for trail extensions

Phase 1 of a link from Mason's Hayhoe Trail to the Lansing River Trail system is among 18 proposed projects now being examined by the Ingham County Commissioners as trails millage spending shifts from repair to new trails.
Courtesy of Ingham County Parks
County weighs proposals for trail extensions

The next time I roll from my home turf in North Lansing to talk about trails with Parks Department Director Timothy Morgan at the Ingham County seat in Mason, I may do it on two wheels. On the way back, maybe I’ll take a detour through Michigan State University’s campus to Lake Lansing.

All work and no play, you know.

With the “Big Fix” putting Ingham County’s first two years of trails millage to work repairing the Lansing River Trail and existing Ingham County trails — see related story, “The 'Big Fix' is In,” p.10 — extension and connectivity are the next big things.

This month and next, the county commission will sift through 18 proposals from eight communities for new miles of trail and other linkage projects that promise to connect more towns and attractions in Ingham County to one another.

The Spicer Group, an engineering firm based in St. Johns and Saginaw, is looking at the cost and viability of the projects and will make recommendations to the County Commission at its Feb. 27 meeting. The county has about $3 million in millage money to spend this year and about $10 million in requests. The commissioners plan to announce which projects will be funded at its March 28 meeting.

“They were all good projects, and I’m sure some of them will be brought back in future rounds if they’re not funded,” Morgan said.

Among the projects being considered is phase one of a three-phase trail extension from MSU to Lake Lansing, about a mile of trail with a bridge and boardwalks, along the Red Cedar in Meridian Township, which Morgan called a “critical connector.”

The extension would go from Hagadorn Road at Shaw Lane along the north side of the Red Cedar River, then along the north side of the CN railroad tracks, ending at the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Park Lake Road.

It’s a complicated mile, almost all on private property, but most of the nine owners have already offered letters of support, Morgan said.

Nancy Krupiarz, director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, said the MSU-to-Lake Lansing stretch is one of 10 “priority trails” that came out of a multi-phased planning process over the past several years.

Regional trails planning involved Michigan’s Department of Transportation, local officials, bicycle advocates and community members attending six public meetings held by the Ingham County Parks Commission.

“Some of those trails are going to start to take shape, and that’s really exciting,” Krupiarz said.

Another project likely to get approval is the first phase of an extension of Mason’s Hayhoe Trail, running northeast nearly to I-127, a crucial step toward hooking Mason up with the Lansing system.

The extension would stretch to the northeastern corner of Mason, near the headquarters of Dart Container, in preparation for a connection with the Sycamore Trail that runs south from Lansing through Delhi Township, completed in 2015.

Another proposed project would move the northwest end of the Lansing River Trail westward to reach Grand Ledge. The trail now comes to a dead end at Dodge Park.

Also in the running is a “Ram extension” of the trail system from Holt High School to Burchfield Park.

The Lake Lansing, Mason and Ram projects run along routes singled out by the state’s Department of Transportation as “regional priority corridors” that connect major population dots around the county. Following the corridors is a big plus for communities seeking county funding for trails, Morgan said.

Besides the Ingham County millagebased projects, the city of Lansing is planning a River Trail extension from Cavanaugh Road to Forest Road, known as the Bear Lake project, for 2018 or 2019. The trail would run northward from Maguire Park, the trail system’s unofficial southern hub, through an obscure, underused area along I-127 and Forest Akers golf course, ending at Mt. Hope Road near Spartan Village.

“It’s a forested area with a lake on MSU property that’s virtually unknown, Bear Lake,” Lansing Parks and Recreation Director Brett Kaschinske said. The project will rely on federal grants and cooperative property owners, but Kaschinske said prospects are good for getting it done, in part because there are only three owners to deal with: MSU, the Lansing School District and Consumers Energy.

And it gets better.

In coming years, the Ingham County network is likely to connect with the 41-mile Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Trail that runs from Ionia to Owosso and spread its tentacles along other regional corridors.

“We’re going to connect north into Clinton County, west into Eaton County and eventually south to Jackson,” Morgan said.

Is there an end in sight? Yes — the Great Lakes, where you’ll have to load your bike on the ferry to get any farther. If non-motorized momentum and millage money keep rolling, Ingham trails will plug like Tinkertoys into ambitious state-wide networks stretching from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan and from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.

In future rounds, regional planners hope the Ingham trail system will evolve into a “heart of Michigan” trail that would extend in two directions: east along the Red Cedar River past Williamston to Webberville and south from Mason along a rail corridor to Leslie and from there to the Lakelands Trail State Park, an existing 26-mile trail.

The Lakelands Trail happens to be a crucial link in the evolution of a Great Lake-to-Lake Trail running from Port Huron to South Haven, a 240-mile distance of which 132 miles of trail are already in place, beginning in the west with the 37- mile Kal-Haven trail from South Haven to Kalamazoo.

If that’s not ambitious enough, the Lakelands segment of the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail is also part of the Iron Belle Trail, the showcase trail initiated by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013 as an engine for economic growth and tourism. The trail would connect Ironwood in the far northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula with the growing trail system in Detroit.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize what we could have through that (Lakelands) connection,” Krupiarz said. Krupiarz said the Department of Transportation has been favorably disposed toward adding a bike lane or an extra wide shoulder on M-52 to make the link possible.

Morgan lit up at the prospect.

“You can get on your bike and ride as far as you want,” he said.