Sweet trails open up on Bay City's Middlegrounds Island

There’s a new trail system worth checking out in Bay City.

The Michigan Sugar Trails stretches through the southern part of Middlegrounds Island. And while the trail originally opened in 2014, high water levels and flooding over the past two years rendered it unusable.

So much revamping has been done in recent months, it’s fair to say it’s a brand-new trail.

“It really is nature in an urban setting,” says Rob Clark, Michigan Sugar Co.’s director of communications and community relations.

The 26-acre area is owned by Michigan Sugar as an access site for a company pump station. The company partnered with the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy to reimagine and rehabilitate the space, eventually opening the original single-track trail ideal for mountain bikers, hikers, trail running and bird watchers.

“It really is a unique resource right here in Bay City,” Clark says. 

“Once you’re on the trails you don’t feel like you’re in an urban environment. You feel like you’re out in the middle of nature.”

Representatives of the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy and Michigan Sugar cut a ribbon during a Bay Area Chamber of Commerce ceremony marking the re-opening of the trails.

Early visitors give the trails two thumbs up.

"As soon as the trails reopened, my daughter and I took a spin out there on our mountain bike," says Diane Fong. "It’s a sweet little trail – very well groomed and marked. She is a new mountain biker, so it was a great first ride. Our favorite parts were the curvy ups and downs on the south end of the loop and riding along the river on the north end. We finished off our ride by pedaling to Cream and Sugar for ice cream."

The trail is close to a mile in length and takes users in a loop back to where they started. It is pet-friendly.

who know the trail refer to its North Loop and South Loop.

The North Loop — which comprises about two-thirds of the trail’s length — is ideal for those wanting a nice hike along tree-surrounded paths. A long arm of this trail takes hikers a stone’s throw from the Saginaw River.

The South Loop gets a nod from the biking set for its inclines, twists and turns, and jumps.

“There are some challenges and some fun to be had out there,” Clark says of the South Loop.

The improved trail is “another feather in the cap” of what Bay City and the Saginaw Bay Area have to offer, says Trevor Edmonds, program director for the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, whose mission is to protect land and water resources and develop trails and outdoor recreational amenities.

It’s easy to get the impression that Edmonds digs his job.

“I do,” he says without hesitation when asked. 

“I am always thrilled about opportunities to work on things like this in Bay City … to improve the quality of life,” he says.

To reopen the trail, organizers with the SBLC visited the site in March to inspect the trails and make a work list.
'Michigan Sugar Trails is a site that’s unique, it’s the only natural-surface, single-track trail in the (Bay City) area. Midland City Forest would be comparable.'
- Trevor Edmonds, Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy
Two events then took place. The first, in April, brought together the SBLC and 35 volunteers with the Rotary Club in Bay City as part of the club’s Great Lakes Watershed Cleanup aimed at cleaning up areas in the Great Lakes.

Together, the two groups trimmed branches and brush, raked and shoveled, all in an effort to re-establish trails that had been damaged by flooding and covered with forest debris. Wooden foot bridges also were built and put over wet spots along the trail.

A few weeks later in May, 45 volunteers from Michigan Sugar visited the site for further cleanup and to establish a gravel parking lot. 

“The trails now are in good shape,” Clark says. “They can drain and stay dry.”

While the original trail was more fully developed on the North Loop, recent work focused on the South Loop, Clark says.

“On the North Loop, half of the trails were under water, including the trailhead,” Clark says. Much discussion centered on where the trail should start. As a result, the trailhead was moved off Evergreen Drive.

“All of it is good for hiking in addition to biking,” Edmonds says.

And bird-watching.

Bird enthusiasts are likely to see a variety of songbirds including orioles, as well as woodpeckers, indigo bunting, ducks, geese, heron and bald eagles. 

“During the spring migration, warblers pass through on their way up north,” Edmonds says.

And in the near future, there is talk of bike or road races on the trail and possibly nature programs.

“We want to know what people would like to see at the site,” Clark says.

Michigan Sugar Trails is open dawn to dusk daily. There is no fee to use the trail. At this time there are no restroom facilities. Users are asked to be considerate of others and pick up their own trash and clean up after pets. 

“Michigan Sugar Trails is a site that’s unique, it’s the only natural-surface, single-track trail in the (Bay City) area. Midland City Forest would be comparable,” says Edmonds, who since the trail’s reopening has shifted attention to another Bay City property, Riverbend West, on city-owned land on Marquette Street across from Defoe Park.