Numerous improvements are on the way or already completed for Ypsilanti-area parks and trails, including new signage and a new website for Washtenaw County's Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail, safer paths between Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, and trail surface improvements.
Susan Faulkner, executive director of the nonprofit Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative
(HWPI), which has been a funding partner on several of these projects, says the timing for the improvements is good since people are looking for safe things to do outside.
"They not only want to recreate, but the mental health benefits of trails have been clearly documented," Faulkner says. "We don't have exact trail counts here, but nationally, trail usage went up over 200% during the pandemic. What we've seen clearly demonstrated with the pandemic is how trails are an essential community asset."
New connections, signs, website for the Border-to-Border Trail
The B2B Trail is a 35-mile paved pathway comprising eight different trail corridors intended to allow Washtenaw County residents to walk or bike from the eastern border of the county to the western edge of the county through one continuous trail system.
However, Peter Sanderson, principal park planner for Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation (WCPR), notes that construction only reached the eastern border with Wayne County last year.
The B2B by Rawsonville Elementary School.
"We extended the trail from Rawsonville Elementary School to the Wayne County border, and we're very excited about that milestone," Sanderson says.
The B2B is also part of the Iron Belle Trail, the longest designated state trail in the U.S., which stretches between Belle Isle Park in Detroit and Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.
"Trying to make those regional connections is some of the more challenging work, with different jurisdictions and different players," Sanderson says. He says HWPI has been "valuable and effective at working across jurisdictions."
"Our goal is to create healthy, connected communities," says Faulkner. "The primary way we do this is by fundraising and providing that critical private-sector funding to supplement both local and statewide funding. Almost all the time, public sector grants require a matching element, and we can help contribute to that."
Another Ypsilanti-area improvement to the B2B trail last year involved re-routing and widening the trail through Frog Island Park
Bonnie Wessler, project manager for Ypsilanti's Department of Public Services, says the old routing of the trail through Frog Island required pedestrians or cyclists to come off the sidewalk and onto Rice Street onto a stretch of gravel. She says it wasn't safe for users or accessible to those with mobility issues.
The improved B2B trail at Frog Island Park in Ypsilanti.
"Users can stay on an accessible, level surface for the entirety of their experience on Frog Island," Wessler says.
Another welcome development for users of the B2B Trail is its new website, B2Btrail.org
. Previously, trail maps were scattered across several websites and weren't always updated with current information.
Sanderson says the new site will gather all B2B information in one place. It includes interactive maps and will include updates about construction, detours, events, and destinations users can find along the trail. Wessler says a central map for the B2B has been one of the most-requested items from the public.
"Before, we'd generally have to point them at a PDF that could be three years out of date," Wessler says. "Now, you can check for fun events along the trail like the jazz series in the park
, but also things like volunteer work days."
The new website also allows users to report issues, like a downed tree blocking the path.
"You don't have to worry if you should call the city or email the county or call Eastern Michigan University," Wessler says. "You report it on the website, and they figure out who it should go to."
WCPR plans to soon update wayfinding signs with mile markers and indicators of nearby attractions along the trail throughout the county. Sanderson says Ypsilanti will possibly benefit the most from new signage since it has some of the most confusing trail segments, especially around EMU's campus.
Connecting city and township
Two of the biggest projects to improve non-motorized routes in the Ypsilanti area have involved getting the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on board with path improvements that cross I-94 at Huron Street and Grove Road.
Multiple entities came together and secured funding to improve pedestrian safety at Huron and I-94, and work is set to kick off in 2022
Mike Hoffmeister, residential services director for Ypsilanti Township, says this section of the trail as well as the sections further to the south "will be a huge connection for people trying to get to places like Kroger and the post office."
In a project with a similar aim, WCPR, MDOT, and the city of Ypsilanti are currently working together to improve connectivity between city and township, where Grove Road passes over the freeway. Sanderson says the project removes the sidewalk on Grove and widens the trail.
Widening the trail on South Grove crossing I-94.
"That will complete the last major link that was still needed in the Ypsilanti area," Sanderson says. "Completing the Grove Road project also means it's accessible in terms of the ADA, and it's safe for bikes and pedestrians to traverse over the freeway."
"When the parks commission approached us about widening the trail there, we were 100% all in," Wessler says, adding that the work would have commenced sooner if not for delays in the permitting process.
Both Wessler and Sanderson say State Rep. Ronnie Peterson advocated for the project, including putting fencing on the side of the bridge for safety reasons.
"Especially with younger children and the traffic right there, it can be pretty darn intimidating," Wessler says. "It will help improve safety and people's perception of safety. We're really pleased with the results of this partnership with WCPR and MDOT."
Sanderson says the Grove Road section has been "a real team effort."
"Even though it's a short project in terms of overall length, it's high-impact," Sanderson says. "It links a lot of the community together. The communities north and south of the freeway used to be linked prior to the freeway going in, and it's been a lot of work to connect them again."
Other park and trail improvements
The city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township are also working on a variety of park and trail improvements in their own jurisdictions.
Wessler says the city is working with the county to rehabilitate some of the pavement in Riverside Park, and the city is also making plans to improve stormwater drainage for that area. She says residents took aerial shots from drone cameras that helped the city pinpoint low points where the water tends to flow.
"We're going to be sensitive to the ecology [of the Huron River], but we also want to provide park users with a safe, pleasant, and fish-free experience," Wessler says.
She says the city is also tackling some deferred maintenance, like repaving the basketball court at Parkridge Park and other small projects like leveling sidewalks in some areas.
Ypsilanti Township CommUNITY Skatepark.
In the township, the recently-built CommUNITY Skatepark
is coming up on its one-year anniversary, and Hoffmeister says it's "very well-used." In less happy news, plans for an off-leash dog park
in the township were delayed since some projects that were higher priority got pushed back during the pandemic, Hoffmeister says.
And finally, Loonfeather Point Park has recently closed for renovations slated to kick off today. The project was funded by a Michigan Department of National Resources grant. Hoffmeister says the project will make the paths more ADA-compliant and will generally give the park a "facelift."
More information about all WCPR offerings can be found here
. Maps and other information about the B2B Trail System is available here
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.