Traverse City News and Events

Plans Revived For Three Mile Trail

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 12, 2020

After more than a decade of failed attempts, plans to extend the Three Mile Trail from South Airport Road to Hammond Road are getting new life – with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) recently purchasing the former Mitchell Creek Golf Course and offering use of the property to build the trail. GTRLC, TART Trails, and Norte will seek to enter an agreement with East Bay Township trustees Monday to begin jointly planning the trail design – a project the partners say will be “transformational” for the community.

TART Trails Executive Director Julie Clark says it was always the plan to extend the Three Mile Trail to Hammond Road when the trail was first built in 2006. The first two-mile phase of the trail extends from the State Park beach on US-31 to South Airport Road. Continuing the trail on to Hammond “was planned to be part of a road-widening project that was going to be completed in 2008,” Clark says. “However, those plans never came to be.” Without Three Mile Road widened, the road right-of-way is not big enough to accommodate a separated trail; wetlands and private property crowd the corridor, posing significant barriers to any potential routes.

Talks continued off and on over the years about extending the trail, but the project faced a likely dead end, partners acknowledge. Then, last spring, GTRLC announced it was purchasing the 166-acre former Mitchell Creek Golf Course to create a public nature preserve called Mitchell Creek Meadow Preserve. The property runs along Three Mile Road – and is ideally located to host a trail connection between South Airport and Hammond. GTRLC saw its potential and reached out to TART to begin brainstorming.

“On this preserve, we could bring everything together with the right trail system,” says GTRLC Executive Director Glen Chown. He notes that in addition to building trail spurs that could connect to other nearby road networks and nature sites, four schools are located near the Three Mile and Hammond intersection, including Grand Traverse Academy, Cherry Knoll Elementary School, Traverse City East Middle School, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School. Right now, students and families looking to access those locations – or to go between schools or to nearby businesses, like Oleson’s – can only do so safely by car. With trail connections, “kids are not chained to their parents’ automobiles and can safely access these areas off the road,” Chown says.

Locating the trail on a scenic nature preserve would also increase its recreational appeal, Clark says. “Instead of just a straight line shoved next to the road, the opportunities for enjoyment increase exponentially,” she says. “It’s a meaningful way to engage with our natural areas. It’s way more comfortable, and the ability to maintain it in the winter is also much better.” Chown adds that having trail access will allow the preserve to serve as an outdoor classroom for neighboring schools, with teachers able to center lessons around the natural environment and watershed restoration efforts underway at Mitchell Creek.

The next big step is to figure out what route the trail will take through the preserve. Since purchasing the site last year, GTRLC has been working on a “careful inventory” of the property, Chown says, delineating wetlands and noting environmentally sensitive areas like bald eagle nesting sites. Any trails – including hiking trails GTRLC plans to build on the property – will not disturb those areas, says Chown.

If East Bay Township trustees agree Monday to enter into a partnership with GTRLC, TART Trails, and Norte, their approval will kick off a conceptual planning phase for the trail design. TART Trails is covering costs for that phase, including hiring engineering firm Gosling Czubak to assist in planning the route. The conceptual planning process is expected to last through spring 2021 and include public input sessions. After a conceptual plan is approved, detailed engineering will begin, which will ultimately produce a project estimate for construction costs. Construction is targeted for 2023, assuming partners can complete a successful capital fundraising campaign.

Combined with work already underway in East Bay Township to build better multi-modal connections through Safe Routes to School, Township Supervisor Beth Friend says the Three Mile Trail project “will connect the township on a higher level.” She adds: “That whole area really hasn’t been reached with any walking or biking trails. We are looking forward to TART’s presentation to bring the township board into partnership with TART, Norte, and GTRLC to connect the trail networks.”

While it will require a lengthy planning and engineering process, Chown believes the Three Mile Trail extension will ultimately be “transformative” for the corridor. Clark agrees. “The possibilities of really connecting the community – which is what trails are all about – is pretty rare and special here,” she says.

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