This innovative regional effort could help grow land and water trails in Macomb County

If you're curious about what it's like to bicycle in and around St. Clair Shores, Tim Focht is a good person to ask.

He's the owner of Tim's Bike Shop, a store based in the Macomb County city that's celebrating its 21st anniversary this month. The shop sells Schwinns, GTs, and aTim Focht variety of kids bikes and accessories. It also handles repairs of all kinds and helps sponsor an annual charity bike fest. 

Located on Jefferson Avenue, Tim's Bike Shop is just a stone's throw away from majestic Lake St. Clair. Unfortunately, there aren't any bike paths on the busy roadway to give cyclists easy access to the lakefront at places like Veteran's Memorial Park or the city's famed Nautical Mile. To take in some of the area's scenic waterfront vistas via bicycle, Focht recommends venturing a little north of St. Clair Shores.

"If you head into Harrison Township, they have bike friendly paths where you can go and ride and a park you can stop at," he says. "You can also ride up to Lake St. Clair Metropark. It's got a nice view of the lake, and there's a lot to do in the park."

Tim's Bike Shop in St. Clair ShoresA Unifying Vision

Right now there's an effort underway to incorporate the picturesque areas Focht describes and, indeed, much of Michigan's southeastern coastline into a unified land and water trail system called the Great Lakes Way

It's being envisioned as an interconnected set of blueways and greenways — 156 miles of water trails and 160 miles of non-motorized land trails — stretching from southern Lake Huron to western Lake Erie. 

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan (CFSEM) is spearheading the project with support from an advisory committee of community leaders, including representatives from the Southeast Michigan Council of Government's (SEMCOG), the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, River Raisin National Park, MotorCities National Heritage Area, Downriver Linked Greenways, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Wayne County Parks, and Macomb County. 

The idea behind the Great Lakes Way is to unify existing land and water trails along the coast into a consolidated system of national significance. In addition to attracting residents and visitors of different ages and abilities, Tom Woiwode, director of the CFSEM's GreenWays Initiative is hopeful the trail system will also create tangible benefits for local communities.

"We can imagine communities capitalizing on their association with the Great Lakes Way, and using that connection for marketing, promotion, economic opportunity, and potential funding," he says. "By way of example, the East Coast Greenway, which runs from northern Maine to the Florida Keys, talks about itself as the longest park in North America, even though it’s made up of a series of trail systems along the East Coast. We imagine that kind of relationship, and opportunity, coming from the Great Lakes Way."

Park overlooking Harley Ensign boat launch in Harrison TownshipMacomb & the Great Lakes Way 

One of the big aspirations behind the Great Lakes Way is to bring together the many  world-class freshwater, wildlife, recreation, and heritage attractions that already dot the southeastern coastline of the state under a common banner. 

When it comes to Macomb, Gerard Santoro, Program Director for Macomb County's Parks and Natural Resources, believes there's a lot to be excited about with the project. He became involved with the project about a year-and-a-half ago and has been helping to integrate many of the county's more distinctive assets into the project, particularly those along the water.

"Macomb County is Greater Detroit's gateway to the Great Lakes with our 32 miles of coastal shoreline.  We have over 70 operating marinas, 16,000 boat slips and many venues on the coast," he says. "Being home to one of the nation's most significant recreational fishing and boating industries, this became a prevailing topic as far as our contribution to a regional perspective." 

Other county highlights Santoro has been working to incorporate include: Selfridge Air National Guard Base, the second oldest military airfield in the USA;  the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, an auto-baron mansion and museum that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016; the popular Lake St. Clair Metropark, which features a beach, marinas and miles of hiking and biking trails; and county birdwatching spots made possible by the convergence of the Atlantic and Mississippi bird migration routes.

Plans for the Great Lake Way also include links with other existing non-motorized routes in Macomb County like Clinton River Park Trail, Freedom Trail, and Macomb Orchard Trail as well as paddle trails along the coast and the Clinton River.  

A preliminary view of how the Great Lakes Way might look can be seen in a vision map created for the project. It features the greenway and blueway routes, connected trails, and other points of interest. 

Currently partners with the project are working on outreach, identifying potential audiences, and working to ensure that the project amplifies work being done at the community level. CFSEM, recently received a Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) grant from the National Park Service to help with those efforts. The RTCA grant offers help in the form of professional assistance rather than money.
Looking towards the future, there's optimism that this new vision of a coastal trail system will spur on the development of new connections between existing land and water infrastructure along Michigan's southeast shoreline, perhaps even in a place like St. Clair Shores. 

There's certainly interest in seeing new developments along these lines come out in Macomb County. Although the details are still being worked out, Santoro says residents and visitors can expect to see some changes coming out of the county's affiliation with the Great Lakes Way effort. 

"Seeing that [the Great Lakes Way] includes such a broad based look at our historic, cultural, and ecological assets, we will see improvements in our trail connections, access to the water for paddling sports, and restoration of our shorelines," says Santoro. "[Regional cooperation] now allows for expansion of these nationally recognized assets and brings the contributions that Macomb County has to the table for greater awareness."

All photos by David Lewinski.

The Macomb Parks & Trails series seeks to capture the story of the outdoor recreation, greenspace, placemaking and emerging outdoor assets that are shaping Macomb County's future. It's made possible with funding from Macomb County.

A bike path at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Read more articles by David Sands.