More than two dozen projects along different parts of Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail will get a boost this year, sharing $1.4 million in public and privately raised funds to help build connections along the state’s showcase trail.
Stretching more than 2,000 total miles, the Iron Belle Trail is the longest state-designated trail in the nation. Currently just over 70 percent completed, the trail runs along two separate routes: a hiking segment that mainly follows the North Country National Scenic Trail on the west side of Michigan, and an 800-mile bike trail running between Belle Isle in Detroit all the way to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.
This year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has awarded $815,884 in mini-grants, while the private Iron Belle Trail Fund has added another $650,000 to support multiple projects on the trail. Grants from these two sources will leverage a matching $3 million in Iron Belle Trail projects.
“Momentum has been building for several years on the Iron Belle Trail, and these grants will ensure that it continues,” said Dakota Hewlett, Iron Belle Trail coordinator. “Several communities have used the mini-grant process to study, engineer and, now, build segments of the trail. It’s exciting to see these plans come together.”
The DNR received 36 applications for this grant cycle. Projects in 15 different counties received funding for signage, engineering, feasibility studies and trail/trailhead construction. The DNR introduced the mini-grants in 2015 as a way to build connections along the trail. Each grant applicant could ask for a maximum of $50,000 and was encouraged, though not required, to provide local match funds.
One community that applied for and received funding is Crawford County, which will use $150,000 to engineer three potential Iron Belle Trail projects in the Grayling area.
“This area has always been plush with outdoor attractions, with 70% of its land being public. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to visit these multiple attractions using nonmotorized transportation,” said Donald Babcock, managing director of the Crawford County Road Commission. “With the advent of the Iron Belle Trail, many of these opportunities can be combined to create a world-class trail, worthy of drawing visitors not only from Michigan, but from out of state.”
This fifth year of Iron Belle Trail funding includes the most money ever distributed in a single mini-grant cycle. From 2015 through 2018, the DNR awarded a total of $1,465,000 in grants for a variety of projects – many of which have been completed or are nearing completion. These grant dollars come from a General Fund appropriation for Iron Belle Trail projects.
The Iron Belle Trail Fund is a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization formed in 2016 to raise private funds that can be used to match public dollars to complete this statewide project. This year’s funding includes trail development and trail planning projects in Alger, Baraga, Calhoun, Grand Traverse, Jackson and Saginaw counties.
“We are very excited to be able to provide private funding for these great projects,” said Steve DeBrabander, executive director of the Iron Belle Trail Fund. “This truly is great example of a public and private partnership that will benefit our citizens and improve the quality of life in Michigan.”
The 25 DNR mini-grant-funded projects include the following.
Crawford County, $50,000 for the engineering of a project from Fletcher Road to Four-Mile Road.
Crawford County, $50,000 for the engineering of a project from M-93 to North Wright Street.
Crawford County, $50,000 for the engineering of project from North Wright Street to Otsego County line.
North Country Trail Association (Alger County), $50,000 for design of the Laughing Whitefish River Bridge.
North Country Trail Association (Baraga County), $50,000 for construction of the Canyon Falls Boardwalk.
DNR – Tahquamenon State Park (Luce County), $49,980 for construction along the Tahquamenon River Trail.
Polly Ann Trailway Management Council (Oakland County), $3,081 for the purchase and installation of a bike repair station.
Carrollton Township (Saginaw County), $50,000 for trailhead appraisal and design.
Calhoun County Road Department (Calhoun County), $10,000 for construction of a safe road crossing.
Calhoun County Trailway Alliance (Calhoun County), $15,000 for trail planning.
City of Frankenmuth (Saginaw County), $16,000 for trailhead amenities and signs.
Bay City (Bay County), $30,193 for signage, bike repair stations.
Otsego Lake Township (Otsego County), $50,000 for trailhead design and construction.
Huron-Clinton Metroparks (Washtenaw County), $38,742 for trailhead at Dexter-Huron Metropark.
Huron-Clinton Metroparks (Wayne County), $43,360 for signage.
Van Buren Township (Wayne County), $50,000 for design at Willow Run Creek and Van Buren Park.
Van Buren Township (Wayne County), $50,000 for engineering of a trail route.
Grand Blanc (Genesee County), $4,100 for a bike repair station and other amenities.
Corwith Township (Otsego County), $7,000 for trailhead signage.
Crystal Falls Township (Iron County), $15,000 for engineering of a Heritage Trail extension.
Battle Creek (Calhoun County), $30,000 for trail signage.
Grayling (Crawford County), $45,428 for a route study, public engagement.
Detroit Greenways Coalition (Wayne County), $5,000 for Iron Belle Trail maps.
Au Sable Township (Iosco County), $45,000 for trailhead design.
Dickinson County Bike Path (Dickinson County), $8,000 for signage.
For more details about the Iron Belle Trail, including an interactive map, visit Michigan.gov/IronBelle.