EVART — For a decade and more, promoters of the Rails to Trails program have dreamed of a long stretch of unencumbered trailway that would allow bikers, hikers and whomsoever to trek from coast to coast in Michigan — from Bay City to Ludington.

Key to fulfilling this dream was the paving of the entire stretch of the Pere Marquette rail bed, which would allow not only snowmobilers to use the trail during the winter months but would open up access to individuals and groups on bicycles, and would offer easy access to hikers as well.

Over the years, sections of the middle portion of the trail were slowly but surely paved.

The first section was within and adjacent to the City of Evart. Reed City then had a stretch paved connecting it to paved portions of the White Pine Trail, and later out to Hersey, and making Reed City once again a real crossroads of activity.

With the completion of paving from Hersey to Evart a few years back, recreationalists could now bike or hike from Evart to Big Rapids passing through Hersey and Reed City and taking advantage of businesses and facilities in those communities.

To the east in the state, sections of the Rails to Trails have also been paved, but huge stretches of the trailway remain “raw” — great for snowmobiling but not so good for expensive bikes or hikers with strollers.

Now, with a little push from the proposed federal stimulus package, there is a new drive to complete the paving from Clare to Evart which could open up the Rails to Trails from Midland to Big Rapids and expand recreational opportunity to all the communities along the way.

The Department of Natural Resources recently announced that a portion of the Pere Marquette State Rail-Trail will be temporarily closed for the months of June and July. This closure is due to asphalt surfacing and drainage improvements.

The closed portion of the trail will be from Evart to east of Partridge Avenue in Clare County, approximately 11 miles in length.

The paving material used is a special mix that has proven to withstand the wear associated with snowmobile use. The surfacing project is expected to be completed by the end of July.

After completion, this project will provide a continuous 36-mile paved trail from Reed City all the way to Farwell. The Michigan Department of Transportation is funding this project by a grant from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.