Thursday, February 22, 2024

The road less traveled: Greater Lansing trails are linked together to promote greater usage

October 17, 2023
A woman walking on a paved trail at Azaadiika Park in East Lansing, Michigan on Oct. 14, 2023.
A woman walking on a paved trail at Azaadiika Park in East Lansing, Michigan on Oct. 14, 2023. —
Photo by Brad LaPlante | The State News

When MSU professor Bob Wilson commutes to campus to teach his trail policy and building class, he does not always drive. Often, he cruises through East Lansing by bike.

“From a commuter standpoint, I like all the trails in Meridian Township,” Wilson said. “When I teach, I use a portion of that trail system. When they complete that one segment that’s running behind the music building, that will be my go-to route to campus.”

Currently under construction is a trail linking MSU’s campus trail network to the Lake Lansing Park South trail network. The section Wilson said he will use runs behind the MSU Community Music School off of Hagadorn Road. The three-phase project is the first connection of its kind.

“For many many decades we did not have funding and that’s why we were not able to construct such a trail,” Meridian Township deputy township manager and director of public works & engineering Dan Opsommer said. “This is certainly the first off-road trail connection and it’s going to be a very pleasant and enjoyable riding experience.” 

The paved trail is being constructed in three phases. Phase one began in Dec. 2022 and is set to be complete this November. After running into permitting delays, phase two construction began in Feb. 2022 and is expected to be completed by June 2024, Opsommer said.

Wilson is a former chairperson in the Michigan Trails Advisory Council for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He began working on trails in the area about 30 years ago, starting with the Lansing River Trail. Since then, the trail network has only grown.

“The Lansing River Trail was sort of a test case,” Wilson said. “I think trail advocates in this area saw the potential and you started seeing trails pop up in other regions of the county.”

Now, the goal is to connect regional trails. It is the natural evolution to the Lansing River Trail backbone, Wilson said.

“This year is a banner year for trail construction,” Friends of the Lansing Regional Trails secretary George Hayhoe said. “The MSU to Lake Lansing trail is going to have a direct impact on MSU students who live all along the Grand River East corridor. Instead of walking down the sidewalk on Grand River Ave., they’ll be able to get on this trail network.”

The the Ingham County Trails and Park Millage was approved in 2014, becoming one of the three main funding sources for the $3.37 million project. Next, the federal TAP grant of $1.7 million was allocated to the project in 2017. The remaining funds were provided by the Township Pathway Millage.

“If there was any silver lining or positive to the pandemic, recreation and trail use increased significantly,” Opsommer said. “You saw way more use of sidewalks, trails and pathways during that time and I think some of that has carried into the future. Clearly with the support that voters have shown for the County millage, this is an asset that they value.”

Wilson said that the benefits of trail use include transportation, health and learning about natural resources, the history and culture of the area. The key to dispersing that message is sound communication, Wilson said.

“Where they are right now in terms of connecting is important but it’s also important to promote the safety and accessibility of trails to open up more opportunities for people,” Wilson said.

Nonprofit organizations like the Friends of the Lansing Regional Trails, or FLRT, do that by hosting community events to Michiganders involved with the trail network. In addition to trail cleanups, FLRT hosts a community 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer race every June to celebrate National Trails Day.

“We are actively seeking people who are interested and passionate about our trail system to get involved with us,” Hayhoe said.

An avid runner and biker, Wilson said he enjoys the Lake Lansing Park trails for the peaceful setting. But his favorite trails in Greater Lansing are part of the Rose Lake Game Area in Bath Township.

“It’s meant for hunting and fishing, but it’s open for non-motorized users as well,” Wilson said. “The reason I like going out there is that it’s a really natural setting that’s pretty isolated. The trails are super comfortable. With the natural surface, you don’t have to worry about crushing limestone or asphalt.”

The goal is to eventually link together as many trails in the region as possible, Opsommer said. The next trail linkage project, the Eastern Third Regional Trail, will stitch together the Lansing River Trail to MSU and ultimately to Lake Lansing Park. 

“Now it’s just looking at all these trails that have been talked about for decades and finding a way to bring them to fruition,” Opsommer said. 

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