With help from a $471,000 Transportation Enhancement Grant and matching funds from hundreds of individual, corporate and foundation donors, the paving of the Leelanau Trail was finally completed in July by TART Trails.
The paving of the trail first began in 1995 with the intention of the entire trail being paved eventually, says Julie Clark, TART Trails
executive director. Throughout the years more sections were added – the most recent was eight years ago. All this was made possible by a small, yet determined group who stood up for this piece of land.
"They (Leelanau Trail founders) had a vision of what a trail could bring to the community, and the passion and tireless dedication to never give up on making it a reality," she says.
The completion of the final 6.2 miles of the trail allowed bicycles, rollerblades and other forms of recreation to take place on more than 15 miles of paved trail running from Traverse City to Suttons Bay.
Now a path that was once hard to travel on for many is a smooth and family-friendly way to get away from Traverse City for the day and explore Suttons Bay.
"I love hearing how the village is bustling with cyclists and businesses are feeling the direct economic benefit of the trail," Clark says.
As a result of the paved trail, local businesses have seen their fair share of increased business. Two in particular stood out to Clark.
Suttons Bay Bikes
just opened this past summer and in no time saw their business grow immensely. The second is Martha's Leelanau Table
, a local café, which saw their business jump 20 percent. Martha's isn't the only local restaurant seeing an increase; others have also felt the impact, says Clark, including Frida Bakery and Café
"Trails around the country have proven to be economic generators, so it's not a surprise to hear about the increase," she says. "We're really happy to know that national trends are repeated at the local level. We expected increased trail use but maybe not quite so much, so fast."
Prior to the final portion being paved, bicyclists had few options and most chose to turn around at Lakeview Road and travel back to Traverse City or left the trail completely and biked on the road, says Clark.
Now, Traverse City residents as well as tourists often see this new path as a way to get away from it all and just relax, she says. In fact, she has experienced this with her own family.
"The trail offers a beautiful way to unwind and escape. You can take your time, not worry about car traffic running alongside you and enjoy the scenery," Clark says. "Judging by the smiling faces you see along the trail, my guess is that most folks feel like we do."
The ambiance of Suttons Bay can provide a contrast from life in Traverse City and the village offers plenty to do.
Whether cyclists decide to make their time at Sutton Bay brief by just grabbing a bite to eat or decide to spend the entire day there, Suttons Bay has something for everyone, says Clark.
Even as the snow begins to fall, the trail will not shut down for the winter. For years it has been groomed for cross-country skiers, offering up a different view of the trail with icicles dangling from the trees and snow-covered branches. Because of the length of the trail, Clark is not sure how many skiers will be up for the long trip, but she is hopeful that winter use will also increase.
As for the future of the trail, TART is committed to sustaining it. They are looking into beautification as well as safety developments. Plans are in the works for adding signs to the trail, which will provide information as well as directional assistance and signs that will help keep people safe, says Clark.
However, funds are needed to make future projects for this trail and others possible, she said.
"What many people don't know is that TART Trails is a donor-driven organization – that means the work we do and the trails we help maintain, manage and advocate for are because individuals think it's important," she says. "Most of the work done on the trails is through the hard work and dedication of volunteers. We have over 100 trained trail ambassadors who help keep our trail system looking great all year long. We are proud and grateful for this strong community support."
Julia Woehrer is a freelance writer, photographer and social media coordinator. She attended the School of Art and Design at Northern Michigan University where she concentrated in photography and minored in journalism. She volunteers at a local no-kill cat shelter and enjoys spending time with her cats, Bella and Macy.