It is terrific to see the people of Branch and St. Joseph counties in southern Michigan continuing to pursue their ambitions for saving a 20-mile section of rail corridor and building a public trail.
After the Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company filed to abandon the section of track in September of 2012, the local residents and businesspeople saw an opportunity. That opportunity was to not only make sure the corridor remained an asset that benefitted all citizens of the area, but also to provide health, educational, economic, social and recreational benefits in a state with many great examples of the transformative potential of rail-trails.
Supported by the expert advice of Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, Friends of the Tamarack Rail Trail formed earlier this year to push the project forward and is now gathering support for a proposal to fund the acquisition of the corridor through local contributions.
"Selling this corridor to adjacent landowners or other private parties would benefit a very small percentage of the residents of St. Joseph and Branch counties," reads a petition being circulated by the group. "Selling the land to a nonprofit organization intent on developing a public accessible linear park... [benefits] all residents of the two counties."
At a community meeting in Bronson earlier this year, Krupiarz acknowledged that opposition to rail-trail projects like this one was a common part of the development process. Michigan is certainly not alone there. As Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff across the country have witnessed, local landowners and taxpayers often express fears about the impact of the trail and question its cost to the community. With reassuring regularity, fears are allayed and the remarkable returns on the initial investment soon become clear.
As Krupiarz told those advocates gathered in Bronson, although support will be available from state and national organizations like Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, it must be locals who "own" the project and provide a sustained energy.
On that front, it is exciting to see the Friends of the Tamarack Rail Trail continue to build momentum. We wish them the very best of luck.