A major section of the trail from Elberta to Beulah was paved last fall. When it is completed, the 22-mile piece in Benzie County will connect Thompsonville, Benzonia, Beulah, Frankfort and Elberta. Constructed on the former Ann Arbor Railroad Corridor, it passes around Betsie Bay, crosses through forests and parallels the Betsie River and Crystal Lake.
The project is a partnership project of Benzie County and the Department of Natural Resources. In 1993, the Friends of Betsie Valley Trail non-profit, volunteer group formed to encourage the development and operation of a recreational trail in Benzie County. They have been instrumental in generating support for the trail and in raising funds to build it. Other community groups, businesses and individuals have supported the project, from the Benzie Audubon Club, who erected a bird watching platform along the trail in Elberta, to families participating in the Adopt-A-Trail program which takes care of segments along the route.
ON A ROLL
Because of a lengthy court case, it took 10 years from the first meeting to the first pavement, laid in November 2000, to get the trail underway. The asphalt now extends seven miles from Elberta to Mollineaux Road west of Beulah, and then is gravel the next three miles along the segment in front of private homes east of Railroad Point along Crystal Lake. The court settlement case involving property owners along Crystal Lake requires a semi-soft material on the 2.5-mile stretch of the trail along the lake.
The next phase of the trail is the proposed 12-1/2 mile stretch that will connect Beulah to Thompsonville. Plans for trailheads in both Beulah and Thompsonville are underway. The proposed Beulah Trailhead and Visitors Center with bike racks, bathrooms, and parking space, would be located near the old railroad depot, behind the businesses in downtown Beulah. An MDOT grant request is pending and DNR lease agreement is being considered.
It seems like such a simple concept; after all its just a trail, said Sean DuPerron, Betsie Valley Trailway manager, who works under the MSU Extension Office in Benzie County. But its so much more than that. Trail management involves organizing and managing resources, being aware of requirements, keeping the public involved and informed, and much more.
DuPerron sees the trail as an integral part of the community, with a multitude of uses besides the many bikers, hikers, roller bladers and snowmobilers who use it. Its can be used to teach school groups about the local history of the area, particularly the railroads; it can be a tool for master gardeners to share knowledge about the flora and fauna of the area; its a chance to see the land from a unique and different perspective, he explained.
Volunteers are always needed and much appreciated for tasks ranging from folding trail maps to clearing brush and promoting the trail through photography. Anyone interested may contact 231-882-9605 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.