Michigan's stretch of the Marquette Greenway moves forward

Outdoor enthusiasts, including bicyclists and walkers, have long imagined riding or trekking all the way from New Buffalo to Chicago. 

A decade in the making, Michigan’s segment of that long-envisioned 60-mile pathway, Marquette Greenway, is now underway and – at least a stretch – may be ready for the public by September. A groundbreaking was held at the future New Buffalo trailhead earlier this month.

“Oh my gosh, it's been 10 years — we've been working on our Michigan segment for 10 years,” says Marcy Hamilton, deputy director/senior planner of the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. “We've overcome a lot of obstacles along the way. So, it was really exciting to have a great turnout for the groundbreaking celebrating this occasion. 

“It's been a lot of hard work and dedication from a lot of different partners and community members to make it happen,” she adds. “So, it's pretty incredible. We're really excited.”

What’s happening: A groundbreaking was held this month at the trailhead for the first phase of the three-mile segment of the Marquette Greenway in New Buffalo. The trailhead will include parking, a picnic area, and bike repair station. Engineering is underway for the second phase – a one mile stretch – that will extend the trail to the Indiana state line.

Residents of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois have long hoped for a non-motorized, uninterrupted trail connecting the three states and accessible to lakefront amenities. The Marquette Greenway will follow along the Lake Michigan shoreline from downtown New Buffalo to Calumet Park in Chicago. 

The Marquette Greenway Trail was first introduced in 2005 and was established as a priority by the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission in 2009 and again in 2017. The tri-state trail will include a segment through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park and will eventually span five counties, 15 municipalities, and will connect almost 200,000 people living within 1.5 miles of the trail along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

Hamilton says different segments of the trail are in stages of completion, with some obstacles — where the trail leads over bridges, for instance — still being hashed out. 

The longest stretch of the trail goes through Indiana – so far, 25 miles of the trail through Indiana and Illinois have been completed. One Indiana segment connecting to the Michigan state line is under construction.

“We hoped we were on track to get it all done in 2027,” she says, “but it may take a couple of more years than that.”

Who’s paying for this: The cost of phase one of the Michigan portion is about $5.6 million. Of that, $75,000 for design and engineering was funded by a Rural Business Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Additional funders include: the Pokagon Fund, a local foundation that receives funding from a casino in New Buffalo Township; the Michigan Department of Transportation’s transportation alternatives program, which contributed $2.7 million; the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, contributing more than $400,000; New Buffalo Township and the city of New Buffalo; and Friends of Berrien County Trails.

Friends of Berrien County Trails, Hamilton says, “did a big fundraising effort and raised more than $400,000 from over 200 individuals and private and family foundations.”

What’s next: New Buffalo’s trailhead will begin construction this season with grading and paving work. Hamilton says that segment should be ready to use by September. “Then we're hoping to have a ribbon-cutting celebration when that happens,” she says, “and do a ride on the trail.” Kalin Construction is the contractor and Abonmarche is the engineering firm overseeing Phase 1 construction. 

The second phase in Michigan will continue the 10-foot-wide paved path along Grand Beach Road to the Indiana-Michigan state line and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.

What people are saying: Gary Wood, president of Friends of Berrien County Trails, a citizen-based nonprofit seeking to connect Berrien County to a network of trails, says the group “will continue to work to connect the Marquette Greenway up the Lake Michigan coastline and one day hope to connect to the Mackinac Bridge.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director for Michigan Brandon Fewins says: “In addition to essential infrastructure, USDA is also helping to create opportunities for rural recreation. The scope of this project, its many partners and the coordination between them are an example of the great things we can accomplish together.”

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword and other Issue Media Group publications.
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