Part I: Travel Michigan on Trails, Waterways and Rail

In a past blog post we examined the use of Michigan’s extensive trail network for daily commutes, but trails do double duty during the summer months, attracting visitors and tourists from throughout the state and beyond. In recent years Michigan has attracted more out-of-state tourists than ever before, largely attributed to Michigan’s landscape and the Great Lakes, as showcased in the Pure Michigan campaign. In 2011 Michigan had 3.2 million out of state visitors, adding $1 billion to the state economy. Recent legislation creating a Pure Michigan trail network highlights the ways in which trails help visitors experience the natural beauty of the state from beyond the car window.

Trails help encourage vacationers in Michigan to choose non-motorized transportation options. West Michigan’s network of trails, for example, runs along the coastline, allowing for a unique, inclusive experience of the Great Lakes and the vibrant cities nearby. As Governor Snyder said when he signed the Pure Michigan Trail bills, “The Pure Michigan Trails designation will help showcase the unlimited outdoor recreation activities and many great resources our state has to offer to residents and visitors alike.”

Trails also offer a unique and adventurous recreational experience for Michigan residents in their own communities. Macomb County Commissioner Dan Brown explains the appeal of the trail experience in a recent post on the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy blog: “From the trail you get a different perspective of the county than you would from the car.”

Biking is becoming an increasingly popular method of transportation for vacationers, and it is a great way to leisurely use the trail network while on vacation. The League of Michigan Bicyclists is sponsoring the 28th annual Shoreline West Bicycle Tour, or as they call it, a “bicycling vacation.” The tour offers a three-day option from Traverse City to Mackinaw City, or the longer seven-day option from Montague to Mackinaw City. The longer tour offers multiple options to explore smaller towns in the Lower Peninsula, including Silver Lake, Ludington, and Pentwater. The tour allows participants to experience multiple Michigan towns all in one vacation without spending hours in the car. Bicycling consistently leaves the option to hop off and enjoy the dunes or beaches along the way, without the burden of a vehicle. The Tour helps to spur downtown tourist activity for smaller towns that tourists may not consider as destinations.

Water trails are another innovative method of transit for vacationers – particularly a newly proposed West Michigan Water Trail for kayakers, canoeists, and others. The West Michigan Environmental Action Council created a report which shows a water trail “could provide an economic boost to lakeshore communities, as well as encourage the environmental protection of local waterways.” The trail would bring together established waterways with routes that connect vibrant downtown areas close to Lake Michigan, like Holland, Grand Rapids and Saugatuck. Establishing a designated trail would encourage new infrastructure to support users, such as camping sites, or kayak/canoe rentals. The water trail could drive a new economic surge in West Michigan, attracting new developments within and without of urban areas.

The Lake Michigan Water Trail Association encourages the development of a 7,000 mile international trail stretching the entire perimeter of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. The trail would encourage multiple land and water uses, while helping to make connections among coastal communities, state parks and other areas around the Great Lakes.

Amtrak is responding to the trend by beginning to offer roll-on bike storage on multiple cross-country routes for the first time. Passengers have the option to depart the train at any stop and hop on their bike to explore. Amtrak wants to “meet consumer demand” for more bike-friendly travel, according to Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.

Do you use our robust trail system, innovative water trails or scenic passenger rail during your Michigan travel? We spoke to Lauren Holaly, active living director at the Crim Fitness Foundation, who shared a helpful tip: “check for local running or bicycling events before you get to your destination. It can fun to participate and often times offers opportunities to see parts of the city you might not otherwise been able to visit!”

Share your stories or photos of Michigan travel in the comments section or on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!

Written by Elle Getschman, Trans4M Intern

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