You can learn a lot from the recreational trails pavement report prepared for the Ingham County Parks Department in 2015. It’s a grim pathology of horrors like “raveling,” “flushing,” “rutting,” “alligator cracks” and the dreaded “longitudinal cracks,” which run in the same direction as the trail.
“Your wheel runs into the crack, the bike stops and you keep on going,” Lansing Parks and Recreation Director Brett Kaschinske explained.
But there is less cause for fear in 2017, unless you’re a cartoon coyote. A fleet of steamrollers is on its way. This is the year of “The Big Fix” for Ingham County trails, including the wrinkled and raveled granddaddy of them all, Lansing’s River Trail.
After two years of study, public input and planning, the trails millage approved by voters in 2014 is finally meeting the road. The millage draws about $3.4 million a year. In March, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners committed $5.5 million from the first two years of collected millage toward repair or replacement of 13-plus miles of pavement and 21 bridges in Lansing, East Lansing and Meridian Township, along with two erosion control projects. Extensions and connections to the system will dominate the next phase. (See related story, “The Next Frontier,” p. 10. )
Nearly $800,000 will go to fix asphalt pavement, including “numerous sections” of the Lansing River Trail and almost everything north of Mt. Hope Road. Ingham County Parks Director Timothy Morgan said nearly said all of the asphalt projects requested by Ingham County communities were granted. Most of the resurfacing should be done by the end of 2017, but some of it might stretch into 2018, Morgan said.
For a preview of coming attractions, and a possible encounter with deer, turkeys, herons and owls, go to Hawk Island Park, the first project to apply funding from the millage. Last fall, the popular 1.5-mile loop around Hawk Island was transformed into a state-of-the-art ribbon of asphalt, wider than before, shored up and leveled off with root-resistant gravel. Here, as in other projects, the county stretched millage funds by leveraging state grants. Out of a total cost of $200,000 to resurface the loop, $120,000 came from the millage, $45,000 from Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and $35,000 from the county’s Capital Improvement Fund.
The Hawk Island loop was 15 years old and needed attention, but it hadn’t deteriorated nearly as much as several segments of the Lansing River Trail. Pavement has an expected life of 15 to 20 years, and much of the River Trail was laid down in the 1980s.
The sections of the Lansing River Trail marked for total rebuilding had an average rating of 3.286 on the industry standard PASER scale, which ranks pavement from 10 (excellent) to 1 (failing). Sections of trail in East Lansing and Meridian Township marked for fixing were rated at an average of 6.6.
The River Trail’s greatest asset, the scenic Grand River, is also its greatest enemy. Erosion and flooding complicate maintenance along much of the trail.
“The joy of our system is it’s on a river and it’s beautiful,” Kaschinske said. “The tough part is that the water moves.”
It moves like mad at one crumbling, flood-prone juncture between Aurelius Road and the Potter Park Zoo. The trouble spot is set for a $1.8 million combined bridge extension and trail repair to be done toward the end of 2017. The bridge will extend further west, over the frequently flooded area.
The spot is worth the investment, Kaschinske said, because it’s a key connection from east to west, as well as south to the Hawk Island loop and farther.
Elsewhere, the city is trying to stretch older infrastructure as long as possible. After a year out of commission, the River Trail bridge/underpass under Oakland Avenue has been patched together with replacement boards, using millage funds, even though the 2015 report recommended total removal. Kaschinske said the choice was made to get a few more years out of it while more pressing problems were addressed.
Erosion is one of those problems. The Big Fix of 2017 also includes riverbank stabilization along a stretch of the trail near the Eckert Power Station and another section west of Frances Park. Those projects are budgeted at $215,000 for the Eckert stretch and even more for the Frances Park stretch, where the bank is steep and so is the price: $368,000.
To hold the river off once and for all, the embankments will be metal seawall instead of the cheaper “Gabion baskets” (rocks wrapped in wire mesh) used up to now.
The human element in the 2017 trails renewal is a Trail Ambassador program launched by the Friends of Lansing Regional Trails, or FLRT. (Last year, the organization changed its name from Friends of the Lansing River Trail, while keeping the FLRT-y acronym, to reflect the regional scope and funding of Ingham County trails.) The Trail Ambassador program will be modeled after Northern Michigan’s successful Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails, or TART, organization.
Ingham County set aside $17,000 of the trails millage to hire a part-time ambassador coordinator. Volunteers for the program will handle trail grooming, cleanup and other ongoing maintenance needs.
Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, said TART “has been great for getting patrons and businesses involved in the trail system in Traverse City, and that’s a major gap we need to fill in this area — to really get the public’s arms around the trail system.”
There is strong anecdotal evidence that trail use in the Lansing area is growing sharply, but it’s been almost 10 years since there has been a comprehensive survey. At a statewide trail summit last week in Traverse City, Krupiarz and her colleagues got excited about a newly developed smartphone app that can extrapolate trail use over a year from about two weeks’ worth of data. Krupiarz that will be one of the first jobs waiting for the first “class” of Trail Ambassadors.
For Lansing River Trail construction and flooding updates, as well as information about the Trail Ambassador program, go to lansingtrails.org