The Bridge to Bay Trail, heading out of East China Park heading south to Marine City across an old railroad bridge.  <span class='image-credits'>Jennifer Knightstep</span>

Play hard or play it safe, St. Clair County has a trail for you

There's no need to travel abroad -- or even outside St. Clair County -- to enjoy some of the best hiking, biking, or kayaking trails around the state. Granted, Michigan's North Country Trail and Jordan River Pathway are great, but whether you're a kayaker, runner, hiker, or biker, there's a top-notch trail designed for you to enjoy right here in St. Clair County.

The popular Wadhams to Avoca and Bridge to Bay trails are enjoyed by hundreds of outdoors enthusiasts annually. There are also countless other hiking trails just as fun and even more local, including the BP Trail in St. Clair (my personal favorite) and even a kayaking trail, the Island Loop.

David Reinke, 40, of East China Township, knows these trails well, having worked on them as an engineer with the St. Clair County Road Commission, and having biked and run them both. He says the trail began modestly enough in the mid-1990s, with the county's first millage devoted to parks and recreation, which helped to create a small stretch of trail through East China Park and south to Marine City. Eventually, 54 miles of paved trail will connect Lakeport State Park, under the Blue Water Bridge, to Port Huron, Marysville, St. Clair, East China, Marine City, Algonac, and seven other communities and their various parks, historical sites, and other tourist attractions.

Land and water trails (or "greenways" and "blueways") are plentiful. In shoreline footage alone, the county boasts 33.9 miles of combined waterfront from Lake Huron; Bouvier Bay; North Channel; the St. Clair, Belle, Black, and Pine rivers; and Mill and Smiths creeks, says Planner Lori Eschenburg of the St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning Commission.The commission's overall goal is to make the county a great place to work, live and play. Planners are currently working on updating the SCC Park Master Recreation Plan to continue to reflect that goal. The overall objective for the Master Plan is to "provide for a multi-use regional trails and blueways system, which connects to other county and municipal parks and trail systems."

Besides connecting the Bridge to Bay with Wadhams to Avoca trails, there are future plans to connect the Bridge to Bay to the Macomb Orchard Trail for a "Great Lake to Lake Trail" some day. They also plan to hook up local trails to those owned by neighboring counties, increase kayak launches along trail routes and bring more routes into ADA compliance.

One of the trail's frequent users is Tricia Wiley of Marine City. Wiley is a runner and uses the Marine City and East China sections of the trail several times a week.

"My whole family uses the trail," she says. "My family runs it, bikes it, and we walk our two dogs there, too." Her favorite time of year on the trail, she says, is fall, when the weather is cooler and the foliage is in full color. "It's really a hidden gem," Wiley says.

Wiley and her family also enjoy the BP Dome Petroleum Nature Trail, a privately-funded hiking trail in St. Clair. It winds along the Pine River on a three-mile loop through woods, fields, and a small hilltop. For the best scenery, Wiley recommends visiting the trail in fall or spring, though she warns it may be muddy going in both seasons.

The Wadhams to Avoca Trail is a 12-mile expanse of retired CSX rail line, starting at the south end in Kimball Township and ending north in Avoca. The highlight of the scenic route is the 60-foot high, 640-foot long Mill Creek Trestle, overlooking the breathtaking Mill Creek Valley. The south half of the trail is paved, while the north half is limestone gravel. There are mile markers along the way to track your progress and four trail heads with ample parking for easy access. It's ideal for walking, cycling, running, rollerblading, and horseback riding, and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Both trails are expanded and maintained with a 0.49 county-wide mil, augmented by state and federal funds as well as some private donations.

There have been roadblocks to completing the Bridge to Bay, with sections of the trail running right alongside a main road, like on Yankee Road, off M-29.

"Not everyone wants a bike path running through their front yard," Reinke says.

Lack of funding is another reason portions of the trail are incomplete. Each of the 13 local units of government along the planned route is responsible for constructing their section of the trail, funded mostly by grants and local partnerships. It's not an easy task to coordinate so many communities and state, local and federal grants, Reinke says. Even so, the sections of the trail that are complete offer 20 miles of biking, running, rollerblading, and dog-walking.

There are also water trails to explore, part of a National Water Trail -- including the 10-mile Island Loop. The Loop crosses four different bodies of water and runs along the international border with Canada. The National Park Service notes that, due to shipping traffic and a moderate to strong current, the difficulty level of the Loop is "intermediate."The roughest section of the Loop passes under the Blue Water Bridge, where the going can get pretty rough from recreational boaters and other traffic.

Missy Campau of Missy's Kayak Connection loves the Island Loop. Campau is a long-time kayaking aficionado and paddles it as often as she can. She offers lessons, tours, and kayak rentals in her shop on Quay Street in downtown Port Huron. When she's not teaching novice kayakers the ins and outs of paddling, she's advocating for the Loop as a committee member of the Blueways of St. Clair, hosting the annual Paddle & Pour event.

Her favorite section of the Loop? "Under the bridges," Campau says. "Something about being pushed through by a current that comes from all of the water surrounding Michigan makes me feel powerful yet vulnerable."

The planning commission is working with local units of government in completing the Bridge to Bay Trail by providing technical assistance and financial support for the required local matching funds for grants. In part, this means partnering with the St. Clair County Community Foundation and the St. Clair County Road Commission to further develop the Blue Water Riverwalk at Desmond Landing in Port Huron. Other funding for the trail comes from the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation millage, local governments, and federal grants through the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-first Century and state grants through the Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Find maps and more information about the Island Loop here, or visit Missy's Kayak for more kayaking resources, gear, lessons, and tours.

Jennifer Knightstep is a freelance writer and photographer and contributor for The Keel.
Signup for Email Alerts