Newly-completed 25-mile trail hugs Lake Michigan
By Mike Terrell 8/31/09
The Little Traverse Wheelway, which travels a little over 25 miles from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs, is northwest Michigans newest trail-way, and its a beauty.
Much of the paved pathway hugs Lake Michigan and Little Traverse Bay shorelines, offering incredible scenic vistas. In addition to the lake views theres a lot of history attached to the pathway, and much of it is made available at various points along the way; a little history lesson with your pedal.
The last little section, just outside Harbor Springs, is slated to be completed this fall and winter, but presently you can still ride into town via a couple of alternative routes.
The trail starts on the north side of Charlevoix on Waller Road. It passes the MDOT roadside parks on US-31 for your first lake views within about three miles. The panoramic views are outstanding, and the Petoskey stone hunting is even better. Prior to reaching the roadside parks you pass a kiosk that offers a history of the Big Rock Point Nuclear Reactor, which was one of the nations first.
The Wheelway passes Bay Harbor, partly along the old rail corridor that used to deposit visitors in these vacation destinations before roads arrived in the area. Cross New England gentility with Nantuckets harbor-side ambiance and you have Petoskey and Harbor Springs. With downtowns that date back to the days of horse-drawn buggies, steamships and trains, a biking tour is a great way to see them. Both possess a fine collection of Victorian buildings and homes.
What a pathway. The views are outstanding the whole way, said Frida Warra, who along with her husband Ron, was visiting friends in the area and had decided to ride the Wheelway.
We heard about it from our friends and wanted to see it for ourselves. Being from the UP, I wish there were a little less traffic noise along some of the segments. Its really quiet up where we live, but the scenery along this pathway more than makes up the little bit of traffic noise. Its beautiful, she added.
Shes right on both counts. There is normally a lot of traffic along US-31, which the Wheelway parallels through Petoskey, but the scenery for me more than made up for the traffic, and the pathway is buffered from the highway much of the way.
The five-mile section along Bay Harbor, mostly a slight downhill, includes an under-road tunnel and spectacular views of Little Traverse Bay and this exclusive community. From Bay Harbors East Park to Petoskeys Magnus Park it hugs a huge bluff that rises above Little Traverse Bay. Busy US-31 is far above you completely out of sight and muffled. The pathway remains about 50 or so feet above the water along the bluff.
This section of trail, called Resort Bluffs, is only about a mile-and-a-half long, but its the crown jewel of the pathway. It was just opened earlier this summer, but worth the wait. Other sections of the trail have been open for a few years. There is an overlook platform, hanging out over the lake, with picnic tables that makes a great place to linger and just enjoy this magnificent, beautiful view.
The pathway continues through Petoskey along the waterfront. It passes historic Mission Church before crossing the Bear River at Bayfront Park, a spur through a pedestrian tunnel takes you into downtown Petoskey. The Pathway continues by Little Traverse Bay History Museum and follows the original location of a late 1800s trail-way between Petoskey and Harbor Springs.
As you pass through Bay View with its elegant summer cottages adorned with gingerbread trimmed turrets and white pillared porches you might picture people riding the large front wheeled old-time bicycles that you would have found during the Victorian era. The stately cottages and historic Inns recall the graciousness of long-ago summers, and where else can you ride along salmon-colored sidewalks?
The Tannery Creek Trailhead, which you pass leaving Bay View, features a beautiful mural that depicts transportation along the Wheelway corridor at various times throughout history.
Presently the Wheelway hugs M-119 from just east of the state park on into Harbor Springs with a little diversion around the airport before ending unceremoniously at Hoyt Street Community Park. There is a good wide shoulder along M-119.
A more scenic ride into Harbor Springs is a duck down Beach Road shortly after passing the state park. Beachside development has walled in the bay view, but much of the road passes through dedicated nature preserves for the various housing associations; much more peaceful and scenic than along busy M-119. The drawback: if youre riding with children, traffic can be busy, and there isnt a shoulder along the road.
Plans call for construction to begin this fall on the last section of the Wheelway, which will take it off M-119, according to Danna Widmar, Executive Director of the Harbor Area Regional Board of Resources, Inc.
It will be a separate trail that will parallel M-119, but off the highway and buffered by trees and vegetation, kind of like what you have along Bay Harbor. It will be much more appealing, she added. We anticipate that the Wheelway will bring people into the area just to ride it. Cyclists have been very enthusiastic.
It already is.