My colleague, Liz Shaw and I, decided that at the first faint signs of spring, we would begin our little journey of experiencing many of the great bicycle trails that wind their way through Michigan. (I should note that Liz has ridden just about all of them over the years.) It took a while for spring to arrive, but we finally made our first trek out to Paint Creek Trail last weekend. The trail paves the way for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and even horses! It can get pretty crowded, but on this particular beautiful Sunday morning, it was an oasis of calm.
Paint Creek Trail is an 8.9 mile rail-to-trail stretch across a region crossing through the cities of Rochester, Rochester Hills, Village of Lake Orion, and Orion/Oakland townships. It meanders through fields, prairies, woodlands and marshlands, and with the leaves not fully sprouted we could still catch glimpses of some beautiful homes tucked along the trail. Not only are there many parks and recreation areas along the way, but restaurants and shops offer many diversions for trail users to enjoy. Always looking for an excuse to eat, we enjoyed a great lunch outdoors at the Paint Creek Cider Mill. The owner said the trailside location is a definite benefit and that during the warm months he gets a huge percentage of his business from trail users.
This might surprise you, but Michigan is #1 in rail-trail miles – 2,623 miles! The only states that come within a bike ride’s reach of us are Minnesota and Wisconsin. And Paint Creek was the first rail-trail opened in 1983. The rail-to-trails movement began in the 1970s when an abundance of rail lines lay unused (a sad testament to the demise of a once bustling transit option, but that’s another story) and trail advocates began working hard, often over a period of many years, to covert old rail lines to multi-use trails. Today, many of the trails now link into long continuous (and sometimes cross-state) routes in multiple regions of the state. More projects are in the offing.
Non-motorized trails are an important piece of the placemaking vernacular. They offer a rich, healthy, experience for people of all ages, celebrate the seasons and beauty of Michigan’s outdoors, make us think beyond jurisdictional lines, and provide economic benefits to businesses and home owners nearby.
We’ll share more of our biking odyssey in the coming months. Meanwhile, happy trails!