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Tip of the Mitten:
Michigan's Little Traverse Wheelway
by Kate Bassett
ven with my back turned, I know the sun is setting. Pink, purple and red hues spill into the sky, replacing the blue that drained only moments ago. I pull my bike to the side of the Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile corridor, mostly rail-trail, that hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The sun slips into a horizon of water. Crickets, in scrub grass leading to a rocky shore, are tuning up for the night. Somewhere in the tunnel of trees ahead, an owl hoots twice. The breeze carries lush lake smells. My husband, too, drops both feet from pedals to ground. Even our three children, still buzzing with the freedom of their own two wheels, pause without thinking. We hold our breath. The last sliver of orange gives way to warm dusk...
Read the rest of Kate Bassett's feature from the Fall 2011 issue of Rails to Trails magazine, and check out the Travel Facts below to help you explore the "Tip of the Mitten."
To learn more about the Little Traverse Wheelway, visit the Top of Michigan Trails Council. For an interactive GIS map of the trail, as well photos, user reviews and loads of other info, visit RTC's online trail-finder website, TrailLink.com.
There are three official trailheads along the Little Traverse Wheelway, and nine places to park and ride. The following are popular spots to hop on the trail:
Little Traverse Township Park, located at the corner of Pleasantview Road and M-119, just east of Harbor Springs. Avoids the road shoulder leading from Harbor Springs, and affords riders the opportunity to head to the sandy beaches of Petoskey State Park, which connects to the trail.
Bayfront Park in Petoskey has plentiful parking, restrooms, playground equipment and access to the historic Gaslight District, via a pedestrian tunnel under US-131.
East Park makes a good starting point when heading toward the trail end in Charlevoix. Plans for a path directly linking the nearby Village of Bay Harbor with the Wheelway are under way.
Adams Rest Area is an easy ride along Lake Michigan and allows folks to park and pick whether they will head south to Charlevoix or north, toward Bay Harbor.
Several stellar bike shops are located along the Wheelway, making it easy to rent a bike and get rolling.
If starting in Harbor Springs, head to Touring Gear Bike Shop, located in the heart of the (still without a stop light) downtown (231.526.7152).
In the same grocery store as the Fettis McCue Overlook, High Gear Sports offers the convenience of parking and the trail only seconds away (231.347.6118).
Just west of downtown Petoskey, also within blocks of the trail, is Latitude 45 Bike Shop. Owned by a young family, it's a great spot for gearing up for any type of ride, including tandem cruisers (231.348.5342)
All three shops offer a range of bikes, plus children's bikes and trailers for wee ones. There are half-day, daily and weekly rental options.
Did You Know?
Ephriam Shay, inventor of the Shay Locomotive, lived in Harbor Springs. He owned and operated the Harbor Springs Railroad (a rail grade now popular with geocachers) from 1902 to 1912; it predominately hauled lumber but also offered sightseeing rides for 25 cents. Shay's oddly shaped "hexagon house" is still a popular sight on Main Street.
Ernest Hemingway, who summered on Walloon Lake near Petoskey, spent a great deal of time traveling the rails from his childhood home in Chicago to the quiet woods and waters of northern Michigan. Rail-trail riders can conjure the spirit of Hemingway at the Little Traverse History Museum, located on the Wheelway just west of Bayfront Park. The museum—a former depot—was built by the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad in 1982, and later served as the main station for the Pere Marquette Railroad—a place Hemingway refers to in his story "The Indians Moved Away."
The Odawa Indians, who spent summers between what is now Harbor Springs and Cross Village, used to disperse into smaller groups for the winter. Each spring, they would gather at Kitcheossening, which means "Big Rock," a boulder north of Charlevoix along Lake Michigan that served as a landmark for the tribe. Upon meeting, they would cross the bay to the shores north of Harbor Springs in wilgwass jilmaan (birch bark canoes, replicas of which can be seen crossing the same waters during Petoskey's annual Festival by the Bay). This designated Michigan Historic Site can be seen today along the Little Traverse Wheelway.