Trails 'with spectacular views' in the works in Emmet County

Construction is underway on five miles of new multi-use trails at the Little Traverse Conservancy’s Offield Family Viewlands Reserve in Harbor Springs, which offers some of the most spectacular views in Emmet County.

What’s happening: Construction began last month on five miles of trails winding through the forests of the Offield Family Viewlands Reserve in areas where there are currently no trails. The project is the effort of the Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association and the Little Traverse Conservancy, groups that partnered and contracted with Flow Track, the company that built trails at Boyne School Forest near Boyne City. The new trail is expected to open next spring.

It will join 5.4 miles of trails snaking throughout the 280-acre property, as well as 0.4 miles of recently completed barrier-free trails to the Bluestem Meadow Labyrinth, which are accessible from either the top or bottom parking areas. 

Visitors can enjoy the views without hiking or biking at all — they can park at the top of the main drive into the reserve by the old golf course clubhouse to watch the sunset or boats on the bay.  From the highest points, Little Traverse Bay and the Inland Waterway — Round Lake, Crooked Lake, and Mullet Lake— are all visible.

The back story:  Offield Viewlands Reserve was established on hills cleared decades ago to create a unique, scenic golf course, the Little Traverse Bay Golf Club, once described by Golf Digest magazine as “probably not a more beautiful course on Earth.” The golf club closed at the end of the 2019 season and the land was purchased by the Harbor Springs-based nonprofit Little Traverse Conservancy with substantial help from the Offield Family Foundation.

The Conservancy’s mission: “To protect  the natural diversity and beauty of northern Michigan by preserving significant land and scenic areas, and fostering appreciation and understanding of the environment.”

Public interest in the new project: The new trails will be beginner-friendly, open to walkers and bikers, and include skill features for those looking for more of a challenge.  Another benefit is a planned connection to a favorite section of the North Country Trail at Kipp Road. “The connection to the North Country Trail will be built by volunteers and will take more time to roll out,” says Anne Fleming, director of communications and community outreach for the Little Traverse Conservancy. “It will be open primarily to bikers but hikers would be welcome to use it too.

‘‘The neat thing about the Offield Viewlands is that there is a lot to do there,” Fleming says. “If you want to just go hiking, we have converted more than five miles of old golf cart paths into hiking paths.”
While some of the hills are steep, there are long sections on fairly level ground. The hiking trails lead to the tops of the hills on the reserve, and almost all of them were designed to provide beautiful views — either of Little Traverse Bay or the Inland Waterway or another beautiful land spot.

Fleming says a recently completed feature is the Bluestem Reflection Labyrinth, a partner project with the Bluestem Meadow Project, a group of local volunteers who wanted to create a place where people could walk, enjoy the beauty, and heal.
In the winter, people also use the reserve for sledding or fat tire biking, so the addition of designed mountain biking trails adds another layer of outdoor recreation.
“Honestly, just walking out at the highest peak in front of the old golf club simply soothes the soul,” Fleming says. “It is so breathtaking and people can just drive up and enjoy the view from one of the new benches placed at the top.”

Cost of expansion project: The $375,000 trail expansion underway now was primarily funded by Conservancy members and trail supporters, Peter and Quin Curran, who matched $67,000 of public donations to the trail’s fundraising effort. Other donors included: Offield Family Foundation; Huckle Family Foundation; Martha Huckle Bowman, Trustee; Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation; Frey Foundation; Erik and Ann Borge; and many members of the local mountain biking community.
Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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