Community support sought to fund trail extension

In 2008 the Kresge Foundation committed $800,000 to build the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail if the community could raise $3 million for the project. Since then the deadline for raising the funds has been repeatedly extended and now time is running out.

The Kresge Foundation has set a Sept. 28 deadline for the community and trail lovers to raise their portion of the match. With just over two weeks to meet the goal the Parks Foundation of Kalamazoo County is hard at work to raise the funds.

"The great news is we have 14 miles of trail in the ground and we'll have another three miles completed in October," says Jerry Albertson, Parks Foundation of Kalamazoo County President. The bridge over the Kalamazoo River is part of the trail that has been finished and a link to Comstock is under construction. (For pictures of the work in progress, check here.)

The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail links the Kal-Haven Trail to downtown Kalamazoo from the west, and D Avenue and the Kalamazoo Nature Center to downtown from the north.

The cost to complete the trail is expected to be $16.6 million, of which $10.4 million has been raised. Of the outstanding $6 million about $3 million is expected to be covered by grants from the state and federal government. Donations can be made here. (Or to ask for more information send email here.)

The Kresge funds would help make possible a link with Battle Creek's Linear Park, creating a 60 mile trail reaching from Battle Creek west to Lake Michigan.

Ultimately, the Kalamazoo Valley River Trail and trails being built in neighboring counties will link more than 140 miles of trail, connecting the Battle Creek Linear Park, Kal-Haven State Park Trail, and Portage Bicentennial Park Trail.

As new portions of the trail have gone in the ground ridership has climbed. In 2010 there were 50,000 people who used the trail for biking, walking or other activities. In 2011, that number rose to 132,0000 and this year the number of users is expected to exceed 200,000.

The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail Foundation points out that research shows vibrant, growing communities place equal emphasis on trails for walking and biking and streets or other infrastructure for airplanes, cars and trains.

Albertson says as part of the fundraising effort they have been meeting with potential donors across the community. "We've had really good, positive discussions," he says. "People need to take time to make sure it is the right decision for them."

Besides the Kresge challenge grant, another donor has promised $533,000 in a second matching grant. The second grant does not have the Sept. 28 deadline.

"We're so appreciative, so thankful for all the people who have donated and so thankful for the people who use the trail,"  Albertson says. "It encourages people to come downtown and is one of the things that make our community cool."

Writer: Kathy Jennings, Second Wave Media
Source: Jerry Albertson, Kalamazoo River Valley Trail Foundation