Trail Projects Underway: Hickory Expansion, Boardman Lake Extension, Pyatt Lake & Maple Bay Upgrades
By Beth Milligan | June 15, 2021
Local officials are working to secure a 76-acre parcel off M-72 in Traverse City – formerly known as the Clarence Kroupa Property, to be renamed Hickory Forest Natural Area – that would join Hickory Meadows and Hickory Hills in offering outdoor recreation options in an expansive contiguous area. The property purchase and new efforts to coordinate trails among the three parks are among numerous trail projects underway across the region, including the planned upcoming opening of a new stretch of the Boardman Lake Trail, trail upgrades at Pyatt Lake and Maple Bay, and planned improvements at the Natural Education Reserve and VASA Trailhead.
After voters overwhelmingly supported a November millage request from the City of Traverse City and Garfield Township Joint Recreational Authority to fund continued operations and improvement/expansion projects, officials now have funding available for a grant match to purchase the 76-acre Hickory Forest Natural Area. The Rec Authority submitted a grant application to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund this spring to purchase the $650,000 property, with the DNR to cover $450,000 and the Rec Authority to cover $200,000 if the grant is approved later this year.
The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) has been helping the Rec Authority to acquire the site, which is located on the west side of Hickory Hills. The property was long owned by local conservationist Clarence Kroupa and consists primarily of mesic northern forest dominated by maple and beech trees. Following Kroupa’s passing, his children agreed to preserve the property and worked with the GTRLC to line up interim buyers who are now holding the site until the Rec Authority can secure funds to purchase it. If successful, the purchase will protect “one of the largest forested parcels within the region’s urban core,” according to GTRLC, and provide over 300 acres of connected recreational property between Hickory Forest, Hickory Hills, and Hickory Meadows.
Different entities own those properties, with the Rec Authority owning Hickory Meadows and potentially Hickory Forest and the City of Traverse City owning Hickory Hills. All of the properties are located within Garfield Township. Rec Authority Executive Director Matt Cowall says his board and city and township staff are now in preliminary talks about coordinating trails and wayfinding signage across the three sites, since the city property is sandwiched directly in between the Rec Authority sites.
“We want to make sure that when one property is creating plans or trails internal to their site, thought is given as to how users will connect to that from other sites,” Cowall says. “If the owners don’t think about and formalize that, users will find their own way to get across the properties.” Rogue user trails can be prone to erosion and sometimes intrude on sensitive areas, so it’s better for the property owners – who have trail expertise on staff – to plan out trail connectivity, Cowall says.
In addition to plans to gather future public input on new trail designs within Hickory Forest Natural Area once the property is secured, other trail planning is underway in the vicinity. Traverse City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Derek Melville says that a recently formed mountain biking advisory committee for Hickory Hills recommended that the city, Preserve Hickory, and Norte join together to hire a mountain bike trail designer to generate conceptual trail designs and cost estimates. The partners have secured Rock Solid Trail Contracting to work on the project, an Upper Peninsula firm that has built thousands of miles of trails across Michigan and the U.S. Mountain biking trails “have always been part of the phase two discussion” for the Hickory Hills expansion project, Melville says; design work is expected to get underway this summer.
Other trail updates…
> Construction is nearly finished on the newest $2 million section of the Boardman Lake Trail connecting Fourteenth Street to NMC’s University Center. “The final touches are being applied and project completion is anticipated by early next month,” according to TART Trails. While the trail appears usable now, landscaping and fencing still need to be completed and users should remain off until it’s officially opened, according to TART. Team Elmer’s, the construction contractor for the project, will next start work on the final $4.4 million trail segment leading from the University Center to Medalie Park. Work will include a boardwalk across Boardman Lake and two bridges to complete the five-mile loop around the lake. While a majority of work is expected to be completed this year, the final segment will likely not have a grand opening until 2022.
> Updates are also underway at two other TART Trails sites. Asphalt replacement work has been completed on the trail segment on Parsons Road between Three Mile and Airport Access roads, providing a wider and smoother trail section. TART broke ground Monday on the next phase of the TART Transformation project, as it’s called, which includes landscaping design improvements, public art, and improved access through trail connections along the segment. Across town, the Acme Township Trail Team is working on next steps to construct the Acme Connector Trail between Bunker Hill Road and the M-72/US-31 intersection. “Construction bidding documents and permits are being finalized for a summer 2021 bid,” with the goal of breaking ground yet this year, according to a recent Grand Traverse County trails report compiled by County Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Erickson.
> Erickson highlighted other trail projects underway across the region in her report, including a new half-mile trail extension at Maple Bay. The trail extends from the GTRLC Farm House to the Maple Bay parking area and replaces an informal user trail that had been developing on the site. GTRLC paid for the trail extension and will also cover new signs and evergreen tree plantings. Planning efforts are also underway to upgrade the Natural Education Reserve on the Boardman River and the VASA Trailhead on Bartlett Road in Acme Township. At the Natural Education Reserve, “it has become increasingly evident that a footbridge is necessary to restore the trail connection across the river and to all points east, west, and north” following the removal of the Sabin Dam, according to Erickson. Engineered plans call for a 200-foot bridge to span the newly formed river valley, a project estimated at $1 million. Local parks leaders plan to seek grants and donations to fund the project. At the 40-acre VASA Trailhead, where a mountain biking skills loop course was recently added, plans call for more improvements in the near future including an expanded outdoor patio by the warming hut, the expansion and addition of new features on the skills loop, a new kiosk with educational/donor/trail signage, and trail adjustments and improvements.
> Finally, a new trail will “allow people of all ages and abilities to explore a popular and ecologically significant preserve on Old Mission Peninsula,” according to a recent GTRLC release. The Conservancy has replaced its “dated infrastructure” at the 159-acre Pyatt Lake: The Bill Carls Nature Preserve near Bowers Harbor with a new universal access trail. The trail – which is flat and smooth to accommodate users with mobility devices, young children, and individuals with strollers, among other groups – includes sections of boardwalk and a deck overlooking the preserve’s namesake lake.
Pictured (clockwise from top left): Map of three Hickory properties, new segment of the Boardman Lake Trail, Pyatt Lake boardwalk, new asphalt on the TART trail along Parsons RoadComment