As a family practice doctor, Alex Wagner believes outdoor activities are equally as important for your physical health and mental health.
That’s why he’s passionate about making Mosquito Creek Trails in central Muskegon County a destination for all skill levels of mountain bikers and all types of trail users.
Mark Stoll rides over a Mosquito Creek Trails bridge built to protect a bank from erosion. The bridge was built entirely by volunteers who hauled all the materials through the woods by hand. Spearheaded by Muskegon County and Michigan’s Edge Mountain Biking Association, the multi-use Mosquito Creek Trail is gaining a reputation as one of best trails in West Michigan.Volunteer Mark Stoll explains the routes and their difficulties at the trail head of mosquito Creek Trails.
“There is nothing better than self-paced, outdoor activity in God's creation. This trail system is so cool because it welcomes all abilities; from toddlers on strider bikes to elders on class one e-bikes,” says Wagner, a physician with Mercy Health in Spring Lake.
“We have countless stories of people losing massive amounts of weight and improving their overall health. People also deal with their personal struggles out there in the woods as mountain biking forces you to forget about what is going on in your life and focus 100% on the trail. The pandemic, along with life in general, has been very difficult for many as most ‘exercise opportunities’ were closed.”
Spearheaded by volunteers
The trailhead is at 2190 Maple Island Road in Egelston Township. The property is owned by Muskegon County near the Muskegon County Wastewater Management facility. The non-motorized, natural trail system is available for hiking, running, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in addition to mountain biking. The trail system is sustainably built with minimal impact on the natural environment.
The project is spearheaded by volunteers, with the support of Michigan’s Edge Mountain Biking Association (MEMBA) and Muskegon County. Mostly volunteer efforts over the past five years have key to building a multi-use trail that is gaining a reputation as one of best trails in West Michigan.
The Muskegon County land is leased by MEMBA, which maintains about 50 miles of trail stretching from southern Ottawa County to northern Muskegon County. MEMBA uses volunteers to build and maintain trails. The group is in the process of raising $360,000, much will fund sustainable trail design. But it will also be used for trailhead construction, bridges, adding parking, signage and trail benches.
Cyclists stop to rest and chat with others they met on the trail. The Trails attract many riders of ages and experience levels.A cyclist riders through a glade towards the Black trail, the most technically difficult trail.Mosquito Trails volunteer Mark Stoll checks a tool box to make sure it is properly stocked. The trail is dotted with community tool boxes for riders in case of punctures and other issues. The boxes were created and stock by volunteers.
The goal is to add more trail miles and amenities, such as a pavilion, bathrooms and lighting. The facility adds to the quality of life in the region by connecting physical and mental health and activity in nature.
“Trails give people an outlet. It is a self-paced activity that is free to use. Spend an hour outside on these trails and you'll instantly feel better, albeit maybe a bit sore after," says Wagner, an association board member.
One of the group's objectives is working with youth to help them build healthier habits. A Scout group from Spring Lake is helping to build a bench.
“We have built great relationships with volunteers. Outside of the scouts, we haven't really had a lot of other community buy-in yet," says Wagner, adding that plans call for raising the facility's profile by hosting host races and weekly rides/runs in the future. There are also plans to partner with schools and riding/running groups.
Volunteer and financial support for the project seems to be equally split between Muskegon and Ottawa counties. The volunteer support is huge, explains Wagner.
"They have taken ownership of the trail and have truly enhanced it over the years. We have learned invaluable information from trail builders that we now use," he says.
The demographic of users tend to be mostly male and white, middle to upper class, because bikes can be expensive. Since the facility is free, the group is hopeful Mosquito Creek will draw in a more diverse group of users.
"We, as a cycling community, hope to help build better access to all trails - paved and dirt," Wagner says.
One of those volunteers is Mark Stoll, who began mountain biking about 30 years as a way to get in better shape for rad biking. He started volunteering in cycling groups about 10 years ago and with more purpose after retirement, and his youngest went to college.
"Mosquito Creek is great because almost any skill level can enjoy parts of the trail and it is so close. The trail allows you to be in nature doing something I love and not have to travel a great distance to do it," he says.
"It can be a challenge to get volunteers to come out and work when everyone's time is limited. People want to play in the woods not work out there when they get time to be out there. All that being said I have met some great people volunteering our time to work on the trails," he says.
He was part of the volunteer crew that has wheelbarrowed heavy loads of material to firm up to soft spots. Volunteers have carried many boards to build bridges and features. They have hauled and mix bags of concrete for the bridges.
"Thankfully there are some that donate financial resources to enable us to rent and purchase equipment as well," he adds. "The bridge-building was very satisfying. Working with others, sharing our ideas and talents, and completing a necessary task to make the trail better for everyone. The grooming efforts are similar. It takes time and you need to get out there at specific times to make it effective."
Shandra Martinez contributed to this report.