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Polly Ann may be part of Belle Isle to Wisconsin trail system

This map from the DNR shows the proposed 324-mile trail in red. This map may shift slightly. (click for larger version)
December 19, 2012 - Physically active folks are used to traveling the Polly Ann Trail to get around Oxford, Addison and Orion townships.

But imagine being able to hop on the local trail and hike or bike as far north as the Wisconsin border or as far south as Detroit.

That's what Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder proposed during a Nov. 28 special address he gave at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station near Kalamazoo.

Snyder unveiled a proposal calling for a trail that stretches from Detroit's Belle Isle to Wisconsin. It could be as long as approximately 924 miles (see map above).

Such a mega-trail would be accomplished by connecting approximately 684 miles of existing trails, such as the 14.2-mile Polly Ann Trail, with approximately 240 miles in new trails throughout the Lower and Upper Peninsulas, according to Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"Today, I am directing the DNR to focus on connecting those trails through cooperation with private and nonprofit partners and the use of their own resources," Snyder said.

Many media outlets have reported the proposed trail's length as 599 miles, but Olson said that's not an accurate figure to use.

"The 599 miles is as the crow flies from Detroit to Mackinac and from Mackinac to Ironwood (located on the Wisconsin border)," he explained. "But it's likely that the trail may be longer than that. On the map (shown on Page 2), the trail goes further north along the shoreline of Lake Superior and it could be that the trail may end up being as long as 924 miles. I just want to clarify that statistic."

Land for these new trails to fill in the gaps between existing trails has not been obtained. The state doesn't plan to purchase any property to help create this mega-trail.

Olson indicated the state's hopeful it can obtain the necessary trail connectors by "partnering with other (entities)" and "securing easements and right-of-ways."

"Statewide we have relationships with local governments, nonprofits and others that have ways to secure the right-of-ways," he said. "Many times we can get the partners to sign off because they see the benefit of having the trail there. They see value in the outcome."

"It's conceivably possible that we may have to look at options (that involve) buying some land and that may be the only way," Olson noted. "But generally speaking, the goal would be to try to accomplish this without having to buy land."

The idea of becoming part of this statewide, mega-trail was welcome news to Polly Ann Trail Manager Juliane Bagley, who learned about it through a friend on Facebook.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "As far as the Polly Ann Trail is concerned, it can only mean good things for us. Maybe the DNR will take notice of our requests. We need some signs and improvements. We might be more likely to get funding for those types of things."

The governor intends for this 924-mile route to be a "showcase trail" that "celebrates" the efforts government agencies and volunteers have made creating and maintaining trails, and "pulls together private and public trails into a signature Pure Michigan experience."

"Michigan has more total trail miles than just about any other state," Snyder said. "Much of the credit goes to volunteers who have shoveled, raked, trimmed and groomed these trails on their own time and often at their own expense.

"This shows the real appetite Michiganders have for quality trails, and points to the opportunity we have to be the Number One trail state."

Snyder directed the DNR, Michigan Snowmobile and Trail Advisory Committee, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Michigan Department of Transportation "to align and prioritize their efforts to support and create trail connections" for the proposed statewide trail.

"All these entities will reach out to local communities as partners, helping them to maximize the economic return from trail use," the governor said. "We can and will seek to make Michigan the Trail State."

"I am excited," Bagley said. "I think it will be great for the (Polly Ann) trail. We've kind of been struggling a little bit, trying to get the DNR's attention. With the governor being behind this huge trail and us being lucky (enough) to be a part of that, I think it will be a little bit easier for us to get some attention."

Having a single trail running through the entire state will help expose more people to more communities as they travel it, in Bagley's opinion.

"There are people who do long-distance hiking and long-distance biking, and it's those types of people that are going to be using the trail more," she said. "It's going to bring more attention to the communities along the route and I think it will benefit businesses."

Locally, Snyder's proposed trail would finally connect the Polly Ann Trail with its popular neighbor, the 8.9-mile Paint Creek Trail, which runs through the cities of Rochester and Rochester Hills, Oakland and Orion townships, and the Village of Lake Orion.

Right now, the state's plan calls for a 4-mile connector trail. "Obviously, it would safer if we had an established, designated connection between the two trails," Bagley said.

Right now, there is no pedestrians-only path that directly links the two trails. Bicyclists, for instance, must ride along the road beside motor vehicles to get from one trail to the other. Having a pedestrians-only connection between the Polly Ann and Paint Creek would mean "trail users wouldn't have to share the road with vehicles anymore," Bagley said. "That would be the safest option."

Bagley also liked the idea of finally being able to provide a pedestrian link between two communities that already share so much and have so much to offer visitors.

"It would be great to be able to connect downtown Oxford and downtown Lake Orion," she said. "Again, I see nothing wrong with this proposal."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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