West Michigan blessed with fabulous network of bike paths and trails

Editor's note: This column is part of a series featuring Lakeshore residents sharing their stories.

Should you encounter me on a bike path, you will know it’s me — I look like a traveling circus. Reflectors, flags, lights, bells, and high-visibility jerseys are the calling cards of many recumbent trikers. We ride low and — often — slow, so we need to stand out, be visible, make sure you notice us. 

Avid cyclist Betsy Cech on her recumbent triker with her dog, Clara, in tow. While some of us do pedal our odd contraptions on the roads, we are most often found on those glorious ribbons of asphalt known as bike paths, multi-use paths, or trails. We are blessed with a fabulous network of trails here in Ottawa County, and I should know, I have cycled 4,000 miles on them so far this year.

I haven’t always been an aficionado of bike paths. They were something I “discovered” when vertigo and balance issues made me give up my road bike for my first recumbent trike. I am never going to be zippy on my trike, but the trade-off for losing speed is gaining adventure. Taking the time to explore the fabulous local parks, trails, and sights has been an unexpected benefit of triking.

Many locals do not realize that West Michigan is a popular destination for cycling groups from across the country. Our trails and paths connect Saugatuck, Holland, Zeeland, the Tri-Cities, Muskegon, Hart, Kent County ... even up to Cadillac. Within this network of trails, one can ride for hours just around Holland and Zeeland or in the Tri-Cities areas without ever leaving the paths.

Exciting projects

With all these paths, there are currently three Ottawa County projects that I find very exciting. Ottawa County’s Parks & Recreation Department has the goal to connect Grand Haven to the Kent County Trail System via 30 miles of multi-use path running along the south side of the Grand River. Proponents are making great progress, with sections completed in both Robinson and Georgetown townships. 

Just a short distance away, The North Bank Trail out of Spring Lake will eventually meet up with the Musketawa Trail and the White Pine Connector Trail, which leads to Kent County. 

Currently under construction, the second phase of the Spoonville Trail in the middle of the county will connect these two paths. In the future, one will be able to travel on paved trails from Grand Haven to Grand Rapids and back on either side of the Grand River with a safe river crossing at the M-231 bridge in the middle.

This is all through the amazing cooperation between Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission, cities, townships, and organizations like the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. West Michigan Trails & Greenways has an ambitious plan to someday connect Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, South Haven, Ludington, Cadillac, and back to Grand Rapids with multi-use paths.

Suggestions for improvement

Yet, even as the trail options continue to increase — as someone who often uses cycling not only as exercise, but also as transportation — I see a few areas that could use improvement. 

Currently, the only continuous north-south cycling paths are in the western part of Ottawa County, along Butternut and Lakeshore drives. It would be wonderful to someday see a path extending directly north from the eastern Holland/ Zeeland area to either the Spoonville Trail or to Allendale. 

I would also like to see accessible paved bike and pedestrian crossings at U.S. 31 between Holland and Grand Haven. Those Michigan turns are not fun on a bike. The alternative is to maneuver the weeds and ditches in the median. Both options are frightening on a recumbent.

Sites to enjoy

Even though there are areas that need improvement, there already are many great places to stop, sights to see, and activities to enjoy all along our West Michigan paths. Whether you explore Lake Shore Drive in Ottawa County with its many beachfront parks, or the Grand River with its quiet parks and their varied wildlife, there is always something to see. A bike tour of the Tri-Cities or Holland will offer up numerous great places to sightsee and dine. 

The Grand Rapids area offers everything from urban bike lanes — where one can pedal to restaurants, museums, shops, and more — to quiet trails in Millennium Park, where you can see wildlife and enjoy nature within the city. For those more adventurous, plan a camping trip by staying at any of our fabulous state parks, many of which are connected by bike paths or the U.S. Bicycle Route System.

Want to learn more about our area’s multi-use paths and trails? Explore websites like that of the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition, pick up a copy of Michigan Trails Magazine, or simply open Google Maps and click the cycling icon. 

Whether you run, walk, dog walk, rollerblade, bike, trike, or unicycle, I promise you will find a West Michigan trail to your liking. And when you see me, don’t forget to say hello to the triker gal who looks like a traveling circus!

In addition to being an avid cyclist, Grand Haven resident Betsy Cech enjoys local history, genealogy, watching wildlife, and finding weird treasures at garage sales.
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