Trail blazing: 4 metro Detroit paths and trails getting glow ups

Despite the ever-changing nature of the weather and the recent disruptive air quality issues, Michiganders are embracing summer and getting outdoors. Metro Detroit has many parks and greenways to offer to residents of every county. Check out this list of four trails to visit this season, all with new or upcoming updates. 

Joe Louis Greenway

With hopes to combine new trails, existing greenways and on-street protected bike lanes, the Joe Louis/Unified Greenway, which started construction earlier this year, will be a 27.5-mile recreational loop connecting Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park and Dearborn. 

The greenway will unite 23 neighborhoods and strengthen Southeast Michigan’s regional trail connectivity. Upon completion, which is expected to be in the next five to ten years, more than 40,000 metro Detroit residents will be able to walk to the greenway within 10 minutes.

Black River Canal Bridge. Photo: The Keel, Port Huron.
Bridge to Bay Trail 

The Bridge to Bay Trail is a regional urban trail that will connect Lakeport State Park on Lake Huron to New Baltimore on Lake St. Clair through 50+ miles of pathways. 

In early June 2023, residents of Port Huron celebrated the installation of the Black River Canal bridge, which filled a key gap within the trail and connects Port Huron Northern High School and Holland Woods Middle School.

“That is a new 160-foot bridge that spans the Black River canal combined with the addition of 5000 feet of paved trail on both sides to just add another element of recreation and help to complete and connect the Bridge to Bay Trail,” Sherri Faust, president of Friends of St. Clair River, says. 

The trail is a combination of bike lanes, rail trails,  and side paths, offering pedestrians a unique variety. 

“Having diversity of a trail represents investments in our region's future to create lasting benefits that obviously benefit the community and benefits the economy,” Faust says. 

Michigan’s Great Lake to Lake Trail Route 1 ends in Port Huron and connects to the Bridge to Bay Trail. There are hopes that the trail will soon also provide links to Macomb County’s Orchard Trail. 

B2B Trail Ann Arbor Corridor - Argo Cascades. Photo courtesy of Huron Waterloo Pathways.

Border to Border Trail  

The Border-to-Border Trail (B2B Trail) is a 35-mile, 10-foot wide, shared-use path that connects communities across Washtenaw County. The B2B Trail will also double as a segment of the Iron Belle Trail — a statewide trial initiative that will connect Belle Isle State Park in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.

Executive Director of Huron-Waterloo Pathways Kiff Hamp says the local trail gives him an escape from the modern chronically-online world. 

“Most of our lives are spent staring at computers and on Zoom meetings,” Hamp says. “I think that's what's a really special part of this. I live in Ann Arbor and I can hop on the trail and within a mile I’m in a beautiful nature area, even though my day-to-day existence is not operating like I live in the woods.”

Coming up, Huron-Waterloo Pathways is starting a project to create a tunnel under the rail line connecting Bandemer Park in Ann Arbor to the Barton nature area on Huron River Drive. 

“The towns, cities, townships, woods, nature areas, parks, downtowns, it has a lot to offer when it comes to diversity of experience and accessibility,” Hamp says. 

Most recently, the B2B Trail created a new segment connecting into downtown Chelsea. The organization is also currently working on a connection from Zeeb Road into Delhi Metropark, connecting the trail to all three Metroparks in Washtenaw County.

Michigan Air Line Trail

Stretching for over seven miles through three western Oakland County communities, the Michigan Air Line Trail was built on the foundation of the historic Air Line/Coe railway. This year, the final piece of the trail was completed, adding an additional 2.5 miles and finalizing the link. 

“We were missing a continuous link there so we have a continuous link now all the way from the Huron Valley Trail Clinton River Trail, which is great,” John Hensler, Michigan Air Line trail manager, says. “Our trail is a great mix of urban, suburban and wooded environments. You get to see a lot.” 

One unique thing about the Michigan Air Line Trail is its’ unique road crossing signals. 

“We have 10 crossing signals on the trail, so if the trail is crossing a roadway that gets any kind of heavy use, we either have a flashing signal that you can use to at least alert drivers that you're trying to cross,” Hensler says. “But then, we also have three signals on the trail that are what we call ‘hawk signals’ and those are the ones where you push a button and the light will turn red, so they actually do have to stop for you.”
Clinton River Trail Connector concept. Photos courtesy of City of Pontiac.
Great Lake to Lake Trail - Route 1

The Michigan Air Line Trail is a key segment of the Great Lake to Lake Trail Route 1, a cross-state recreational trail that, when completed, will stretch from Port Huron to South Haven, becoming the longest of the five Great Lake to Lake trails. 

Notably on June 27, the City of Pontiac received a notice of funding award in the amount of $16,328,000 in support of the City’s Pike Street Clinton River Trail Connector Project. The project will make pedestrian improvements along approximately four miles of road in Pontiac and will install the North Spur Trail (NST) along the former Grand Trunk-Belt Line Railroad. Roadway improvements will be made on the primary corridor of Pike Street and the key connecting roads of Front Street, Eastway Drive, and Bagley Street.
“The Pike Street Clinton River Trail Connector is a critical local and regional project whose planning has spanned many years,” Alexandra Borngesser, director of grants and philanthropy for the City of Pontiac, says. “This project will address regional gaps in pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.” 

The proposed trail project, which is set to begin in spring of 2024 and end in fall of 2026, will help promote healthy lifestyles and expand the network of walking and biking in the region. 

“The City of Pontiac is a historically disadvantaged city predominantly comprised of minority populations. Communities of color, especially those with low income, are significantly less likely to participate in physical activities, resulting in an increased risk of physical and mental health issues,” Borngesser says. “Improvements to the Clinton River Trail will have a significant effect on the promotion of health and safety in the community in which it is located.”
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