Traverse City News and Events

Efforts Move Ahead To Complete Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 28, 2018

A multimillion-dollar project to complete a 27-mile trail through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is moving ahead – with officials seeking public input this week on the design for the final section of the trail.

Project consultant OHM Advisors will host a public open house Wednesday from 5:30pm to 7pm at Cleveland Township Hall in Maple City focused on the final phase of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail project. The planned 5.2-mile segment will complete the northernmost section of the trail, stretching from County Road 669/Bohemian Road to County Road 651/Good Harbor Bay. OHM Advisors has been hired to create a preliminary design for the trail segment, according to TART Trails Executive Director Julie Clark.

“We’re taking a step back and really giving it another look as to where the trail is best situated in this corridor,” Clark says. “The goal is to collect some public input on how the route for the last leg is best achieved. Is the trail best situated on-road? Is it off-road all the way? There are a couple different options, so the goal of the public input session is to dive into what trail users and residents think is the best route.”

The general location of the planned final segment along the north side of Little Traverse Lake has already caused backlash from homeowners along the lake, who sued the National Park Service in an effort to block the project. The group argued the trail would damage homeowners’ “aesthetic, recreational and environmental interests” and intrude on critical dune habitat. The case was dismissed in court, clearing the way for the trail to proceed. Whether on-road or off-road, the trail will run exclusively along public property and right-of-way, Clark says, meaning no private property easements will need to be obtained.

But residents’ input on the exact trail route will still be a significant factor in the final trail design, which also needs to reflect considerations outlined in an environmental assessment completed by the National Park Service. “OHM will be looking at how to balance the needs of trail users with the environmental and physical constraints in that area,” Clark says. Final design approvals will also need to be given by Cleveland and Centerville townships, the Leelanau County Road Commission, and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

While Wednesday’s open house marks the kickoff to the public input phase of the project, it won’t be the only opportunity for residents to share their feedback. Clark says OHM Advisors will be collecting suggestions through a number of avenues in the coming weeks, including online for those who can’t make it to events. Based on the public input and environmental and planning data, the consulting firm will create one or more recommended design scenarios for the trail that will then go to the governing bodies for approval. Fundraising for trail construction will follow.

“It will likely be a couple million (dollars) if the trail runs off-road completely,” says Clark. “We’ve budgeted around three million. If it’s a combination of on-road and off-road, it will be less.” Clark says TART Trails will be working with partners to launch a fundraising campaign and apply for grants to complete the trail. Construction could start within the next 2-3 years, depending on design and fundraising timelines.

When the northern section is complete, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail will run for a continuous 25 miles between Good Harbor Bay and downtown Empire. The trail connects destinations along the way including Port Oneida, the Crystal River trailhead, Glen Arbor, Glen Haven, the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and the Bar Lake Road trailhead. A planned future final 2.3-mile segment would extend the southernmost section of the trail from downtown Empire to the county line near Manning Road. However, that component of the project is on hold as TART Trails works with Benzie County to discuss a design that could extend the trail even further and connect beyond to broader trail networks in the region.

The first segment of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail – a four-mile route connecting Glen Arbor to the Dune Climb – opened in 2012, with additional segments constructed in phases over the following four years. The trail is handicap-accessible and designed for walkers, runners, skiers, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and babies in strollers. The completion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is one of three multimillion-dollar projects currently underway at TART Trails: The organization is also working with partners to complete Traverse City's Boardman Lake Trail, with construction scheduled for 2019, and to build a 46-mile non-motorized trail connecting Traverse City to Charlevoix.

Photo credit: Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

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