Take to Rails-to-Trails for outdoor exercise

OSCEOLA COUNTY — With the weather beginning to warm up, it’s time to really get out of the house and visit Osceola County.

There are a lot of ways to see the country.

Some folks want to get a little closer to the passing scenery than they can through the windows of their car.

The continually developing system of Rails-to-Trails springing up throughout the state give many that opportunity.

The Rails-to-Trails in the Mecosta-Osceola county area are drawing hundreds of visitors to the region and offering a ground-level glimpse of local history.

When Osceola County began  its development, the dawn of  this beautiful area’s growth  was marked by the screech of  trains making their way over a  network of railroad lines spread  throughout the area.

As logging slowed down as  one of Michigan’s major  industries, so the number  of railroad lines dwindled.

But until relatively recently,  trains still made their way  through the county, cutting  north and south - east and  west.

Over the past 20 years, the  railroads have virtually  disappeared in Osceola  County, but rail beds remained  in place, a silent reminder of the  heyday of railroading in  west-central Michigan.

In recent years, a number of  conservancies have worked,  together with the State of  Michigan, to create one of the  most extensive Rail-to-Trails  systems in the state.

Today, hundreds of miles of  reclaimed rail beds are open to  hikers and bikers wishing to  stroll or ride through some  of the most stunning  countryside in the area.

The White Pine Trail, running  north and south from Rockford  to Cadillac, and the Pere  Marquette Trail, running east  and west from Clare to Baldwin,  offer unlimited opportunities for  trips through areas rich in  natural resources and  steeped in historical  interest.

With Osceola County  communities spread at regular  intervals along the way, hikers  and bikers can spend days of  casual wandering along the  trails with convenient  breaks along the way.

Beginning in Big Rapids, the  White Pine Trail shoots north  through Paris and on to Reed  City, passing alongside the  picturesque Victorian  community of Hersey.

This portion of the trail is completely paved, making it possible even to roller skate from one city to the next.

Hersey is a smaller village, but is rich in history, being one  of the earliest settled villages in  Osceola County.

Delos Blodgett, who opened  the area up to logging and  platted many of the towns  and villages in this region made  his home in Hersey.

It also was the county seat  until the 1920s, when the  administrative center moved  to Reed City.

Reed City, Osceola County’s  present county seat sits at the  junction of the White Pine and  Pere Marquette Trails, and  offers travelers two area  motels, a campground and  numerous restaurants ranging  from fast food to luxurious  dining.

Throughout the summer there  are fee concerts, and a  number of festivals drawing  thousands to the area.

Heading north, wanderers  pass through other small  historic logging  communities, now quiet  little villages - but all with a  distinct personality of their  own.

If travelers on the trails  choose the east west route,  there are also many  opportunities to enjoy  stops in Osceola and Lake  county communities along the  way.

Heading west, travelers pass  through Chase and eventually  reach Idlewild.

This now sleepy village was  once a center of culture being  as it was home to the largest  Afro-American resort in the  United States.

During its golden age, Idlewild  saw entertainers such as Ella  Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and  Sammy Davis, Jr. performing  for black vacationers from  Detroit, Chicago, and all over.

Now a quiet town, there are  plans afoot to create a museum  celebrating the heady days of  Idlewild’s past.

Baldwin, a short ride further  down the trail, is rich in tourist  amenities and interesting sites to  visit such as the famous Shrine  of the Pines, one of the most  fascinating examples of  ‘rustic’ architecture in  Michigan.

Traveling east from Reed  City, hiker and bikers will  reach Evart.

The trail from Reed City to Clare is now completely paved which makes make touring, by foot or bike, just that much more comfortable.

This charming city also offers  a wide range of opportunities  for rest relaxation and  entertainment, including  the Osceola County Fair and the  city’s signature event the  Dulcimer Festival  planned  this year for the weekend of  July 13.

Travelers are welcome to rest  and recuperate from the efforts  at Evart’s newly renovated  railroad depot which  houses city offices as well as  a Rail-to-Trails rest area with  clean restrooms.

Evart has numerous  restaurants, a top-shelf motel,  and is the  home to a variety of county  activities throughout the  summer.

Information about specific  stretches of the trail, events  occurring throughout the  spring, summer and fall,  and accommodations along the  way are best available through  local Chambers of Commerce.

Have a nice trip.