Paint Creek Trail introduces upgrades, including new 3-mile connector pathway

This article is part of Inside Our Outdoors, a series about Southeast Michigan's connected parks, greenways, and trails and how they affect residents' quality of life. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

For users of northeast Oakland County's Paint Creek Trail, 2021 is shaping up to be a great year. The 8.9-mile linear park has recently undergone several major improvements, including a new link to another nearby trail, and additional developments are on thePCT gateway sign horizon. 

Formerly a segment of the Penn Central Railroad, the Paint Creek Trail is Michigan's first non-motorized rail trail and has been open to the public since 1983. A draw for area bicyclists and hiking enthusiasts, the eight-foot-wide trailway crosses through Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, Orion Township, and Lake Orion and attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year.

"We're very excited about these projects. A lot of them have been a long time coming," says Paint Creek Trail Manager Melissa Ford. "The biggest development in the last year has been the new connector pathway that opened up in the north end of the trail." 

The new connection brings the Paint Creek Trail together with the Polly Ann Trail, a 14.2-mile trailway that passes through Orion Township, Oxford Township, Oxford, Addison Township, and Leonard. Both trails are part of the state-spanning Iron Belle Trail, which will run from Belle Isle State Park in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula when completed.

Spearheaded by Orion Township, the pathway has been under construction for several years, with the last section connecting to the Paint Creek Trail finally being completed this past fall. 

"There's a brand new bridge over the creek that allows people to connect to both our trails via this three-mile long connector, PCT kioskso that's the big development," says Ford. "Now you can finally travel between our trails safely."

The new connector pathway bridge can be found in Orion Township just north of Clarkston and Kern Roads.

Over the last few years, the Paint Creek Trailways Commission, which owns and manages the trail, has had it resurfaced as well. It has also replaced an old railroad bridge in Oakland Township between Dutton and Silver Bell Roads and installed a stairway next to it to improve access. Beyond that, the Paint Creek Trail has also updated its trail signage as well as its logo, so it can have a cohesive brand for the trail. 
"We have brand new maps that have been put up on the signage," says Ford. "Each sign has a vignette about different information on trail-related topics. It's been quite a while since it's been updated." 

The new signage includes two gateway signs that were installed in Rochester and Lake Orion, as well as nine kiosk signs with trail maps placed at trailheads and road crossings. Plans are also underway to update wayfinder and road signage in the near future.

Looking forward, the Paint Creek Trail and the Polly Ann Trail will also be participating in the Detroit Institute of Arts' Inside|Out program from May through October.
Now in its twelfth year, the cultural program involves bringing high-quality reproductions from the DIA's collections to outdoor locations around Southeast Michigan. The museum plans to install three pieces of art along the Paint Creek Trail, three along the Polly Ann Trail, and two along their connector pathway.
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Read more articles by David Sands.