New trail in Portage is gentle, curvy, a little bit hilly

The asphalt has just been laid on the newest section of Portage's non-motorized trail network. And an older section of the Portage Creek Bicentennial Trail, between I-94 and Milham Ave., is getting moved over in keeping with a previous agreement.

A 1.6-mile trail through the Eliason Nature Reserve is now a gently curvy, moderately hilly bike ride through a 140-acre chunk of forest and wetlands. It's also an important connection for those who like to travel through Portage's busy commercial area to the suburbs and farmland south of Osterhaut Avenue without worry about motorized traffic.

Or from the Portage suburbs to the edge of Kalamazoo. "You can go all the way from Osterhaut to Kilgore now, just on non-motorized (paths), which is pretty unique," Kendall Klingelsmith, Portage parks director, says.

From the north, one can ride, or walk, jog, rollerblade, along the Portage Creek Bicentennial Park Trail, to the trail alongside Shaver Road which follows south down Portage Industrial Drive. The new trail through Eliason is at the southeast corner near the road's end. To find the trail, look for a sign promising the "future trail"--the future is today.

From the south, look for the new parking lot west of Schrier Park. Klingelsmith is focused on the next agenda item, putting finishing touches on a parking lot and trailhead at the Osterhaut end. The lot is completed, but barriers are needed to keep cars from driving onto the trail. The trial is open for use, but the official opening will be scheduled when that's done, likely by the end of July.

(For a ride on the trail via video, please click here.)

"There are always the final details," Klingelsmith says. The parks department is also applying for Michigan DNR grants for future restrooms and benches at the trailhead. 

The Eliason family donated the land to Portage in 2011 with the requirement that it be kept a nature preserve. 

To reach Osterhaut, the city purchased 17 additional acres. Klingelsmith says Portage is now seeking funds to lay nature trails to connect Eliason to neighboring Bishop's Bog Preserve and Schrier Park.

"We're constantly looking at other ideas to expand the trails." Eventually, trails will "connect over 300 acres of parkland, which I think is really cool.... You can bike on it, you can hike on it, you can learn on it. It's a real gem over there."

Klingelsmith says it's all part of a long-range plan to connect Portage to Kalamazoo, Vicksburg, Texas Corners and other local communities with non-motorized trails. The health and recreation benefits are worth the funds, not to mention the attraction the trails hold for "the Millennial and Gen-X generations," he says.

PCBT moved aside

Trail users may have wondered what's happening to part of the Portage Creek Bicentennial Trail where, over the summer, a path has been cut through the trees and soggy ground close to Portage Creek.

The new cut is along the east edge of where the older trail makes large right angle and "S" curves. 

This is to "straighten out" the trail there, Klingelsmith says. Its construction is also due to American Village Builders' claim on the land.

Some of the land the trail is on is "an industrial park.... Now the economy has picked back up there's some interest in putting some businesses back there," Klingelsmith says.

Curt Aardema, AVB Director of Development, after consulting with AVB President of Commercial Construction Jack Michael, says, "they're working on a couple different plans (for the land), but nothing's been formalized yet, nothing's official and nothing's ready to announce at this point. But we have been working on these projects, and as these projects progress, we might be able to give you some updates." 

Right now, AVB is in "early stage conversations about the property." Aardema says. 

When the city was planning the trail at the end of the '90s, the parks department had a state grant for the project. But at the time the city didn't own any of the land on the east side of AVB's tech park, which then included private lots and homes on the creek. 

The city needed to use the grant before the state took it back, Klingelsmith says. AVB had "given the city an easement to put the existing trail on (AVB property), with the understanding that when the properties to the east were purchased by the city... then the city would relocate the trail." 

In 2006, the city acquired the lots to the east of AVB land, as part of the 2006 Lovers Lane widening project. So this year Portage decided to move forward with the relocation and take advantage of a surplus in its "rainy day fund--this was a project that the city decided it's time to do."

But there's one mystery: In the map of property lines that Klingelsmith sent Second Wave, the section of trail that's being moved doesn't appear to be directly on AVB property. However, the part of the trail that isn't being moved, in the section leading to the pedestrian/bike bridge over Milham, is entirely within AVB borders.

Chris Barnes, Portage transportation and utilities director, and city engineer on the original trail project, clarified. 

The old length where the trail is being moved may look to be on the borderline on a smaller map, but it's actually "all on their (AVB's) property," on the city's map of lots, Barnes says. There are lengths where "it gets to about two feet of where the city now owns" to where it's "probably within a foot all on tech park property."

In the portion close to Milham leading up to the pedestrian bridge, that's all within AVB property, he says. But, "They gave us a permanent easement down there. They're not going to be able to develop anything close to that bridge, the property narrows down," Barnes says.

AVB will never reclaim that land?  

"The easement for the bridge and the trail there, it's a permanent easement, there's no caveat that it could be moved whenever the property is available," he says.

The new section will be ready for asphalt, Barnes hopes, early to mid-August, capping what's been a "long process" of squeezing a non-motorized trail through the crowded area.

Mark Wedel has been a Kalamazoo-based freelance journalist since 1992. He’s also a long-distance bicyclist working on a book on the subject. For more info visit here.  

Photos and video by Mark Wedel
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