While there’s no saying how many people have used the Bay County Riverwalk and Railtrail System in the past 34 years, rest assured it’s a lot.
The Railtrail, which saw its first section completed in 1986, represents a popular destination for area walkers, runners, in-line skaters, and anyone else looking for non-motorized recreation.
It also continues to grow.
Today, Bay County’s Riverwalk Trail System consists of a nearly 20-mile network of pedestrian walkways that extends from the Bay City State Park and Tobico Marsh Nature Preserve through the city and to Zilwaukee in Saginaw County. Next up is a new section that connects the trail’s Hotchkiss Road trailhead to Salzburg Avenue, both in Bay County. The new section is slated to open in the fall.
The new, 5,600 linear feet section provides easier access to the Hotchkiss section.
The new section of the Railtrail is ready to be cleared.“The only way to access that area now is by biking down Euclid Avenue,” said Cathy Washabaugh, chairwoman of the Bay Area Community Foundation’s Bay County Riverwalk and Railtrail Committee. “There’s no paved sidewalk along there; the new section makes it much easier to access (the Hotchkiss trailhead)."
The new section will feature a kiosk, located near Ray’s Bike Shop and Ideal Party Store on Salzburg Avenue, that provides a map of trails and other helpful information. Railtrail users can access the new location at a trailhead (and parking area) at the end of Arbor Street.
Washabaugh said the Community Foundation opens bids to potential contractors later this month and the date targeted for the new section’s completion is Oct. 31.
Funding for the Salzburg-to-Hotchkiss section comes from the Community Foundation, the Kantzler Foundation, and the Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail Board.
The Hotchkiss portion of the Railtrail was connected to a section of Zilwaukee’s Pathway trail in 2016 to link trails of Bay and Saginaw counties. Trees line much of the pathway and offer shade during hot summer days and a dazzling display of color during the fall.
The new section is representative of the trail’s steady progress since fundraising for the system began in 1982, thanks largely to the efforts of community volunteer Peg Rowley. In 1991, construction was completed and dedicated on the first phase of construction while the Hampton Township section was constructed and completed in 1992.
Washabaugh said the new section also represents the kind of all-hands-on-deck effort that has characterized the Railtrail’s expansion over the years.
Fields, water, and wooded areas all line the Railtrail system.“The cooperative effort is what’s so impressive to me,” she said. “It’s involved other townships, like Tittabawassee and Kochville townships, and the teamwork has been incredible over the past few years.
“Everyone involved just wants to make sure that it’s a great resource for everyone in the area, not just in their particular location. Collaboration is the key to success in projects such as these."
Today’s Riverwalk Trail features sections in Portsmouth Township and Bangor Township, including a section that connects the trail to Bay City’s State Park.
The trails are popular throughout the year.“It’s truly a gem of the area,” said Washabaugh. “It provides a safe, paved path for people to exercise, whether it’s walking or biking, that might not be available otherwise.
“To have a paved path is a benefit to everyone, but especially for people as they get older and don’t find it as easy to access and enjoy non-paved paths.”
Another of the Railtrail’s advantages is the uniqueness of each section. Some parts of the trail cut through urban areas, including Bay City, while others are more rural and provide a quiet getaway for walking, biking, running and other activities.
Users of the Railtrail system pass by working farms.According to travelandleisure.com, more than 1,200 trails have opened on former railways across the United States since 1965 and provided safe recreational access for people nationwide. Meanwhile, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Trail system will continue to expand, said Washabaugh, with the long-term goal of connecting Bay and Saginaw County trails with Midland County’s trail system. Additional sections will be added in the next couple of years.
For Washabaugh, a frequent Railtrail user over the years, building on an already popular project has many positives.
“I have a lot of happy memories thanks to the trails,” she said. “When my children were young, I had a double-jogger (stroller) and it was such a great experience when I was a big runner.
“But it also helps to bring people together and enables them to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise.”
Besides the completion of the Salzburg to Hotchkiss link, this fall also will bring two events to area trails: a Trail Mix, a celebration of rail trails around the area, is scheduled for Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., while a walking and running event, the Harvest Hustle, will take place on Sept. 29 from 1 to 3 p.m.
The latter event includes 5K and 10-mile runs and will raise money and support the Trail Maintenance Fund of the Bay Area Community Foundation.
Bikers, in-line skaters, and walkers all use Railtrail.