The farsighted vision of Fred Meijer continues to reap dividends for the people of Michigan.
When in 1994 Fred Meijer donated $265,000 to help purchase an out-of-service rail line in Greenville for what would one day become the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, few would have imagined the broad network of trails it would inspire.
Since then, the Fred Meijer Trails Network has branched out from Michigan's lower peninsula to cover hundreds of miles and dozens of communities across the state. Their popularity as tourist attractions, recreational amenities and vital urban and rural connectors has been the catalyst for strong support for trails investment in the state, with residents, businesspeople and elected officials seeing firsthand the myriad benefits they bring.
That network looks set to expand further, with the great news earlier this month that the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund had awarded $300,000 to develop eight miles of paved rail-trail through the communities of Ovid, St. Johns, Fowler, Pewamo and Muir.
These eight miles are the first stage in what will eventually be the 41.3-mile Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Trail (CIS). Such is the enthusiasm for trails in Michigan, plans are already afoot to link the CIS trail with the Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Trail, Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Trail and the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail to create a "super trail," allowing visitors to travel along three different rivers, through two state game areas, and through 16 towns and villages.
There was more great news for the people of Michigan with the announcement that a seven-mile rail-trail project connecting Bear Creek Township to Alanson in northern Michigan is likely to begin construction in 2012, thanks to a$942,000 federal Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant awarded by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).
When complete, the 10-foot-wide asphalt trail will provide a crucial connection to the popular Little Traverse Wheelway, which runs between Harbor Springs and Charlevoix.
One of the reasons Michigan has been able to build such a model trail network is MDOT's understanding of how TE represents terrific fiscal value for the state.
"This federal funding helps pay for improvements that make a real difference in economic development and quality of life," MDOT's state transportation director, Kirk T. Steudle, told the Petoskey News.
"Transportation enhancements like these make Michigan communities even more attractive to residents, visitors and business investors."