With the St. Clair River as a backdrop, biking trails across the area can be relaxing. <span class='image-credits'>David Lewinski</span>

Communities working to connect bicycle trails, improve user experience

Don't have your own bike? Rent one and explore Blue Water trails from a different perspective.

For visitors and residents in St. Clair County, there are many options for enjoying recreational pastimes like hiking, running and bicycling.

Among the Pure Michigan views of the water and Thumb Coast, residents in St. Clair County have the perfect backdrop to their bike rides.

Plenty of bike riding options abound in the area, from bike rentals and bike shops such as Alpine Cycles, to the popular RIding along the water makes the trek easier.Zagster bike share program that was installed in Port Huron last summer.

And thanks to newer technologies and applications, finding a bike or a trail will become easier and more user-friendly.

New mapping

Sixteen miles of trails in St. Clair County are about to become more visible, thanks to Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and its area partners.

SEMCOG works to support planning in the region by improving its water, transportation, communities and economic development.

Recently, they paired with Terrain360, a Richmond, Va. based company that uses surface-level image maps to create 360 views of natural areas, including trails, waterways, and other landscapes.

"The goal of this project is to showcase the region's trails network for both residents of Southeast Michigan and visitors from across the state and beyond," says Kevin Vettraino, plan implementation manager for SEMCOG.

He says that the region boasts some of the best hiking and biking trails, including from the Wadhams to Avoca Trail in St Clair County and the Bridge to Bay Trail, a 54-mile trail from Lakeport State Park to New Baltimore.

Beautiful bike trails are ready to explore in St. Clair County"The demand for this is to both celebrate the region's recreational assets, as well support and encourage tourism," says Vettraino. "We know that parks and trails are economic drivers. People like to get outdoors."
Once mapped out, the trails will be integrated into the Southeast Michigan ParkFinder app, which includes information on over 2,600 parks, from state and regional parks to county parks, to local and neighborhood parks.

"We want people to explore one of our maps and want to go see that river or trail in person," says Terrain360's Ryan Abrahamsen. "We want map users to appreciate a park or a lake or a river because of the quality of the imagery and the usefulness of the map and be inspired, ultimately, conserve that natural resource."

Vettraino says in addition to the SEMCOG maps being accessible on their website and the Parkfinder app, he anticipates local communities and other stakeholders to host the maps and resources, as well.

Bicycle Rentals create opportunities

Another app that has become more popular is the Zagster bike share app, which allows users to connect with a community hosting a bike share program, choose a bike, and ride. Port Huron is one of a few select cities in Southeast Michigan to join Zagster. Others are found in Dearborn, Southfield, and Windsor.

"We have a Zagster station outside our window, and we constantly see people use them," says Marci Fogal of the Blue Water Area Convention and Tourism Bureau.

Stations are also located at St. Clair County Community College, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, and the Bluewater Area Transit Center.

"It's a great hobby," says Fogal. "You can enjoy it three seasons out of the year, even if you're single, a couple, or a family--it's a great way to spend some time together."

She says she hears more and more from the public about biking.

"We've had more calls wanting info on bike trails and bike rentals than in the past."

In fact, according to the Blue Water Area Transit Center (BWATC), which manages the Port Huron Zagster stations, there Support from organizations like the Community Foundation keep the trails ready for riders. were 888 total rides since the bike share was implemented last year, with the biggest amount of riders hopping on bikes in May.

"There are 493 active members," says BWATC Director Lee-Perry Belleau. "And 31 percent are repeat riders."
Belleau also mentions that there is talk amongst city organizations to possible implement more stations across not only Port Huron, but also in Marysville and Fort Gratiot, even in non-touristy areas.

"In addition to tourism, this project provides momentum to let families within the region know what great options they have for recreation right in their ‘backyard,'" says Vettraino.  

Dave Smith, transportation and engineering manager for the Port Huron Department of Public Works, says working on bike trails and paths has been an ongoing process for years, and that funding dictates what gets completed.

"It's a complicated issue, and it's politically heated," he says.

He also says plans for additional bike share racks and stations are being discussed but that that will also depend on funding.

"It's extremely expensive to concentrate on bike shares when streets need repair."

Smith says there have been talks with the county about adding bike paths to Water Street and other areas such as 10th street, Gratiot north of Lakeside Park to connect with M-25, and perhaps Griswold or Oak.  

"It is in the planning stage," he says.  

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