February 13, 2013 - This spring, equestrian users of the Polly Ann Trail will be given a much safer way to ride through Leonard.
That's when construction is expected to resume on a 4-foot wide path along the side of the 3,200-foot long, 12-foot wide stretch of asphalt trail that runs through the rustic village between Elmwood St. and Gerst Rd.
The side path is being paid for using a $120,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), so there's absolutely no cost to the PATMC or equestrian users. The DNR committed to funding the project back in 2009.
When completed, the side path will contain multiple surfaces. Six test surfaces – consisting of various materials such as soil, sand and recycled wood chips – will be used to coat different sections of the side path.
In essence, the side path will be used as a test site to determine which surface works best for equestrian trail users.
"Basically, the reason the DNR is paying for it is (they're going to use our trail) to find out which (surface) works the best for everybody," said Addison Township Trustee Ed Brakefield, who serves as chairman of the Polly Ann Trail Management Council (PATMC).
Once that's determined, he said the selected surface will be used on equestrian trails throughout Michigan.
"Which is kind of nice," Brakefield said.
Brakefield, who's an experienced equestrian, explained that it's extremely hazardous for equestrians to ride their horses on an asphalt surface.
"Many horses have to wear steel shoes to keep from wearing their hooves down and steel (on) asphalt is the equivalent of a person trying to walk across ice with ordinary shoes," he said. "It's very, very slippery. A horse can lose his footing real easy. Even with (bare) hooves, it's slippery. But (having) these steel shoes on asphalt is more dangerous. It's very unsafe."
The danger is not only to the horse and rider, but also to other trail users such as bicyclists, joggers and hikers.
"The most important thing is the safety of the trail," Brakefield said. "When people are riding their horses down the trail at least they'll know, in the Village of Leonard, it's going to be safe."
Brakefield doesn't expect the side path to significantly increase the number of equestrians who use the trail.
"It will draw a few more riders," he said. "I don't anticipate a huge influx of horseback riders because of this side path."
Unbeknownst to the trail council at the time, construction of the equestrian side path actually began back in December, but was halted due to the winter weather.
"We got a call that somebody had parked a trailer on the trail and we didn't know what was going on," Brakefield said. "We sent (the trail manager) to find out what's going on and to our surprise, the DNR – they didn't tell us – had decided to put the horse trail in (now)."
That decision was made Dec. 4 and the site was staked by engineers on Dec. 6-7, according to Brakefield.
"The DNR gave the contractor 60 days to get the job done," he said. "But as we know, winter caught up with them."
Brakefield said the contractor stopped work in early January and told the trail manager "they would be back in early spring to wrap it up" or whenever the ground thaws.
Brakefield encourages everyone to come out and experience everything the Polly Ann Trail has to offer.
"The trail from the bridge (over M-24) in Oxford to (north of Addison's boundaries) is absolutely beautiful for horseback riding and bicycling," he said. "It's one of the most beautiful trails anybody could ride. In the fall, the colors (of the leaves) are just unbelievable."
"It's extremely safe for a young (horseback) rider," Brakefield added. "On our end, the northern side, everyone is very, very respectful toward horses.
"We've ridden it and the bicyclists are always courteous to us. Many times they'll stop and let us ride right by them. As an equestrian rider, I've never had an issue with anyone on the trail being rude."
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.