In 1994, Michigan businessman Fred Meijer funded the purchase of the first rail-trail right-of-way in the state. That purchase became the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail (above), and since then, the philanthropy of the Meijer family has made possible one of the best trail networks in America.
The success and popularity of these trails has been the best vindication of Meijer's visionary support. A year after his death, Meijer's legacy continues to expand as the people and communities of Michigan carry on his belief that such trails represent a wise investment.
Right now, small communities in the mid-Michigan counties of Clinton, Ionia and Shiawassee are digging deep to help fund the planned 41.3-mile Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee (CIS) rail-trail (below). These communities have raised more than $180,000 to match a number of state and federal grants, with a number of municipalities pitching in far more than the amount requested of them by the state.
According to this story in the Sentinel Standard, smaller communities were asked to give a voluntary sum of $5,000 each to help support the trail system, with larger communities, including Ionia and St. Johns, asked to provide $25,000. In response, Ionia gave $50,000. Many other towns gave additional funds, too, conscious of the value of the trail and great value it brings to the area, improving not only the quality of life of existing residents, but its tourism potential and ability to attract new residents and businesses. Thanks to donations by local residents, the Friends of the Fred Meijer CIS Trail has also raised almost $50,000.
"It's important for them to participate," Michigan Department of Resources Trail Planning Specialist Annamarie Bauer told the Sentinel Standard. "The trail brings people to their communities and can help provide economic opportunities."