Everywhere you look, there are people in Michigan demanding that their communities have trails systems and great places to walk, bike, ride and ski. And, increasingly, politicians, officials and planners are listening.
One such place is Saginaw County in mid-Michigan, where the committed advocacy of one man in the 1980s has inspired a growing trail system with big ambitions.
RTC caught up for a quick chat with the Director of Saginaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, John Schmude, for a couple of minutes this week to find out what's all the buzz about in his neck of the woods.
RTC: You guys are responsible for 550 acres of parkland, including 18 miles of trails throughout the county. Is there one that particularly stands out for locals and visitors?
John: While we haven't gathered the data yet, it has to be the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail. When we were designing the trail, we went into it with the idea that we would keep the tree canopy intact. This has certainly made maintenance more of a challenge, but that tree canopy has been become one of the most loved aspects of the trail. It keeps the trail cooler in the summer, and is quite pretty in the fall and winter. We also groom the trail in the winter for cross-country skiing, so the trail is used year-round.
We were saddened to hear of the recent passing of local trail advocate Jim Garrett (below). What was his role in bringing the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail to fruition?
Jim was a gentleman and truly a professional. Building the trail was a passion for him.
Jim used to ride horses on the vacant railroad right-of-way around Saginaw County in the mid-1980s, and that's when he started pitching the idea of developing the corridor into a non-motorized trail to various agencies. Nobody bit for many years, until Saginaw County agreed to adopt it as a project in the early 1990s. Jim had a great passion for horse-riding, and so it is terrific to see now that approximately nine of the more than 10 miles of the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail have a parallel equestrian trail.
What's next? We hear there are plans in the works for proving more options for biking and walking in the region?
This past summer, a 1.4-mile trail connection was made that connects Saginaw Township's sidewalk and trail system to the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail.
And we are looking at even broader plans, too. The Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail Alliance is working on linking the existing trails in Saginaw, Bay, and Midland counties. The railroad right-of-way for the first phase of the project, from Saginaw to Bay counties, has already been acquired by the Michigan Department of Transportation, so things are moving forward there. Connecting the communities of Saginaw County to hundreds of miles of connected trails through this beautiful part of Michigan would be a tremendous boost to our economy and the quality of life for locals.