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Trail Towns Play to Michigan Strengths

Michael Sheean, Chair of the Boyne Area Trail Town Committee, shows off a new Trail Town banner for the downtown Boyne City area.
Michael Sheean, Chair of the Boyne Area Trail Town Committee, shows off a new Trail Town banner for the downtown Boyne City area.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – September 22, 2014 – A growing number of Michigan communities are working to better meet the needs and interests of recreational visitors to their nearby trails.

The “Trail Town” concept is relatively new to Michigan, but it’s rapidly gaining traction across the state. This economic development strategy leverages trail systems to help better serve and attract both residents and recreational visitors. Interest has risen all the way up to the state legislature; Pubic Act 210 became law in July, which allows local jurisdictions to petition to become “Pure Michigan Trail Towns.” Trails are also the focus of Michigan Trails Week, organized by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and running through September 27.

The nonprofit Land Information Access Association (LIAA) has been working to create Trail Town strategies in communities all over the state for the past five years. In northern Michigan, LIAA has developed Trail Town plans with Alpena, Grayling, Mackinaw City, Topinabee and Atlanta. Charlevoix is currently working on its Trail Town plan, and Boyne City is planning to adopt its plan this week. LIAA is also working to develop and connect Trail Town plans in eight communities in the Thumb region along Lake Huron. Last year, LIAA completed Michigan’s first Trail Town Manual.

The basic Trail Town concept is simple: ensure that communities near a trail are better able to maximize the economic potential of trail-based tourism. Communities participate in a planning process to find ways they can improve their offerings for trail users ― anything from adding access to drinking water or restrooms to recruiting new businesses that cater to the recreational public. In some cases, the Trail Town process helps to drive the creation of new trails.

Harry Burkholder is a community planner with LIAA and an advisor to statewide trail development efforts. He notes that the planning process for Trail Town development isn’t overly complex, but it is thorough, leveraging all of the community’s assets and plans and including recommendations for improvements based on the needs and wants of trail users.

“Michigan is a great state for all kinds of trails, whether they’re motorized or nonmotorized, on land or on water,” says Burkholder. “The Trail Town process helps communities maximize the many benefits that trails already bring to their community.”

Other communities throughout Michigan are now exploring the Trail Town concept. In southeast Michigan, the Clinton River Watershed Council and the Huron River Watershed Council have established independent Trail Town initiatives along water trails. The North Country Trail Association has also designated several Michigan communities along its trail as “Trail Towns.”

For questions or more information about Trail Town development, contact LIAA at 231-929-3696 or info@liaa.org.

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