Tourism legislationwould promote trail network

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Promoting Michigan’s Rails to Trails network could bring more tourism dollars to local communities.

Recent legislation introduced by lawmakers in Lansing would make information for all Michigan trails – including those on the water – available at the click of a button.

Accessibility is part of the Department of Natural Resource’s plan to attract tourists to Michigan’s trails by improving them and making them easier to find.

Lawmakers recently introduced a package of five bills that would label all state trails as Pure Michigan trails, use “trail towns” to connect trails between communities and make trail information available both on a computer and through an app.

In Reed City, two of Michigan’s premier trail systems intersect. The White Pine Trail and the Pere Marquette Trail crossing, which makes the city one of Michigan’s trail communities and that has Suzie Williams, executive director of the Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce, excited about the possibilities of the proposed legislation.

“Our Rails to Trails are very popular in Reed City,” Williams said. “You can go in all directions any day of the year.”

Michigan is the leading state in old railroad routes that have been converted into public trails, said Jim Radabaugh, state trails coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources. More than 2,700 miles of such rail trails have been created.

Michigan has some of the best statewide trail systems in the country,” said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, a sponsor for one bill. “We wanted to enhance that by branding them with Pure Michigan.”

Many Michigan towns hope to take advantage of the increased tourism brought in by the trails.

“To have Pure Michigan promote our trails outside the state is a very good thing,” Williams said. “Our state is very beautiful. On our trails you are getting out and seeing nature. This would promote our areas and promote our natural resources, such as our forests, rivers, lakes and streams. This is a good plan for Michigan.”

The trails plan requires the DNR to develop a way for trail users to easily locate trails with a smartphone app and an online presence. The DNR worked closely with the Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance to develop the plan and the legislation to implement it.

“There is a lot of trail information out there that is very hard to find and hardly anything on the Pure Michigan website on trails,” said Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. “We need to have a central landing page whether it links out to individual efforts or has all the information on one page. This will help elevate for tourism in Michigan.”

The trails also offer people a way to travel throughout Michigan without driving.

“We see more and more people biking the trails with their families because it’s a way to get out and not worry about traffic,” Williams said. “We have them come in and get information about traveling to Big Rapids, Cadillac, Clare and so on.”

The Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce fully supports the legislation currently in Lansing and offers cooperation with the advancement of the current trail system in Mecosta County.

“We recognize the value of our trail system not only because of the health, recreation and transportation benefits, but also because of the economic impact that well-maintained trails have on communities,” said Jennifer Heinzman, chamber executive director. “Studies show that trails increase property values, promote tourism and strengthen surrounding businesses.”

The legislation also includes a bill that would take the snowmobile specification out of the Michigan snowmobile and trails advisory council.

“We are trying to get away from the impression of putting one trail above the other,” said Rep. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, who sponsored the bill. “All trails are important and should be looked at equally.

The change is noncontroversial.

“The makeup of the council is still going to be the same and it will still be a committee that looks at trails in the state,” said Bill Manson, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association. “We understand that other trail groups have had problems with the specification so we have no problem changing it.”

This year’s snowy winter made Reed City a popular stop for snowmobilers and other winter activities.

“The trails have been here for six years now and we have established our city as stop for snowmobilers,” Williams said. “We have the bonfire pit, restrooms and this winter it wasn’t uncommon seeing 100 snowmobiles parked by the depot while people stopped to get information and rest in the town.”

The legislation would also create a Pure Michigan water trail designation.

“Waterways should be recognized with activities like canoeing and kayaking,” Casperson said.

Michigan is following states like Kentucky, Maryland and Pennsylvania that have improved their trail programs to increase tourism, Krupiarz said.

The end game is being able to lay out what Michigan has to offer, where it is and how you do it for all to see, Casperson said.