Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail bolstered by private funding

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Gov. Rick Snyder today announced private donations totaling $10.5 million to help build the Iron Belle Trail, a major development for Michigan’s 2,000-mile hiking and bicycling “showcase” trail that traverses the state.

“Our natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities in Michigan are second to none, and an important and defining part of who we are as a state,” Snyder said. “These generous contributions toward completion of the Iron Belle Trail help solidify Michigan’s reputation as ‘The Trails State’. I sincerely thank all of the sponsors for their vision and support of the Iron Belle Trail.”

The governor was joined by David Egner of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and Ann Arbor-area entrepreneur Michael Levine at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor for the announcement. The Wilson Foundation has committed more than $5.5 million to date, including a recent $3.25 million grant for trail development in Washtenaw County and more than $2.3 million to support trail design and planning in Detroit. Levine previously pledged $5 million. The funding will be used for engineering, development, signage and other needs on the Iron Belle Trail and to leverage other donations in the ongoing campaign.

“The Iron Belle Trail is a tremendous opportunity to connect the most important assets of our state and region together – our people,” said Dave Egner, president and CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “The investments we’ve made to date in Southeast Michigan are helping to fill some gaps and link existing and planned greenways, so our kids, families and visitors can enjoy active and healthy lifestyles, while also connecting to the tremendous natural resources and amenities our state has to offer.”

The trail extends from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula. When completed, it will be the longest state-designated trail in the nation, offering 2,019 miles of combined trails along two separate routes, one dedicated to hiking and the other to bicycling. It is designed to take trail users on excursions through pristine forests and cool rivers, while providing important connections between big cities and smaller and diverse communities.

The Iron Belle Trail builds on the state’s extensive network of more than 12,500 miles of outdoor recreation trails, including more rail-trail miles than any other state.

Since the vision for the Iron Belle Trail was announced in 2012, $68 million – more than $40 million in federal grants, $25 million in state grants and over $3 million in local funds – has gone toward a variety of projects to build connections along the trail. Significant funding for the trail has been provided by the Transportation Alternatives Program, administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation. Department of Natural Resources trails staff estimate the trail is 68 percent completed.

Dennis Muchmore is a member of the Iron Belle Trail Fund Campaign Board of Directors. The group was formed to help raise an additional $155 million in private funds to fully connect the Iron Belle Trail from Detroit to Ironwood.

“The first phase of working on the Iron Belle Trail involved a great deal of evaluation, of understanding where and how connections could be made, and building relationships with local communities to get their input and ideas,” Muchmore said. “Now, in 2018, we’re poised to build on the hard work that’s been completed and move the Iron Belle even closer to completion.”

The Iron Belle Trail Fund Campaign is led by executive director Steve DeBrabander and the following co-chairs:

Rick DeVos, Start Garden (Grand Rapids)
Dan Musser III, Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island)
Brad Canale, Northern Michigan University Foundation (Marquette)
Bob Jacquart, Stormy Kromer (Ironwood)
DNR Director Keith Creagh said that nearly 50 miles of new trail development and connectors currently are under way – either in the engineering or construction phase – and that a total of 238 trail miles are targeted for completion within the next few years.

Other private donations already have benefited the Iron Belle Trail. One project in Washtenaw County is known as the Border-to-Border (B2B) regional trail – an effort spearheaded by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission for more than 10 years and also supported by private partner Huron Waterloo Pathways.

The Karen’s Trail campaign is one of the fundraising efforts for the overall B2B regional trail. Karen’s Trail is led by local attorney Lew Kidder in honor of his wife, Karen McKeachie, who was killed in a 2016 accident while riding her bicycle near their home. Kidder is one of more than 100 volunteers dedicated to the B2B vision. The Karen’s Trail effort will help develop a trail as part of the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative, which runs along the Iron Belle Trail. To date, nearly $3 million has been raised for that 21-mile stretch of trail thanks to the Karen’s Trail campaign and other donations.

Washtenaw County voters showed their support for trails development by approving a November 2016 road millage that added an additional $4 million of Iron Belle/B2B pathway funding over four years.

“Quality outdoor recreation resources and opportunities mean a lot to the people who use and value them, and to the communities they serve,” Creagh said. “The Iron Belle Trail offers so many beautiful places where people make memories, improve their health, and recharge their energy. The state and our many partners are on an ambitious timeline to get the remainder of these connected miles in place.”

Learn more about the trail and donation opportunities on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/ironbelle.