2017-04-13 / Life in Leelanau

Trail Off Track

Group files appeal, opposes Heritage Trail construction on Traverse Lake Road
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THE SLEEPING Bear Heritage Trail currently starts in Empire and ends at Bohemian Road in Cleveland Township. The placement of the final phase that will take the trail around Little Traverse Lake to Good Harbor Trail is being challenged by a homeowners group. THE SLEEPING Bear Heritage Trail currently starts in Empire and ends at Bohemian Road in Cleveland Township. The placement of the final phase that will take the trail around Little Traverse Lake to Good Harbor Trail is being challenged by a homeowners group. It seems the final section of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail has hit a dead end.

There is no court injunction stopping the trail, said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

But without knowing exactly where the trail is going, it’s difficult to come up with a cost target for fundraising efforts, Ulrich said.

“Lansing is not holding it up, but if this drags out, they’ll have to come up with a best-guess estimation,” Ulrich said.

The Little Traverse Lake Property Owners Association, which has long opposed having the trail in its neck of the woods, recently lost a court challenge they had filed to stop its construction. The group has filed an appeal through its Lansingbased attorney, Thaddeus Morgan.

“We think there’s a great deal of merit to the appeal,” Morgan said.

The appeal was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

“The relief we’re asking for is to have the National Park Service do a full-fledged environmental statement based upon the route of the trail,” Morgan said.

“There’s so much uncertainty and yet they come in with certainty, saying there’s no environmental impact."

The last section is estimated at about five miles long and is planned to go through a section of woods on the north side of Traverse Lake Road, which is located on the north side of Little Traverse Lake.

That could change if the appeal is won. The group has long advocated locating the trail closer to Lake Michigan, where its construction would not destroy trees along Traverse Lake Road.

But that area has since been designated a Wilderness Area and is protected from any development, including paved trails. The Wilderness designation, which includes 32,000 acres of parkland, had been in the works for more than 30 years.

No money has yet been raised for the final section of trail, according to Pam Darling, development director of Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails. The group has done all the fundraising for the Heritage Trail so far.

Earlier this year Darling had said the group was hoping to move forward with the design and engineering phase of the trail, after which a fundraising campaign could be started, with possible construction next year.

The Little Traverse Lake group filed its original lawsuit against the National Park Service (NPS) in 2015, claiming that an adequate environmental review of trail plans hadn’t been done, that alternate routes were not adequately analyzed, that incomplete or misleading data was used and that the NPS didn’t comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

A U.S. District judge rejected the lawsuit earlier this year, saying the group failed to comment on an environmental assessment that had been modified due to the Little Traverse Lake group’s initial concerns and so forfeited their right to object.

Morgan has said the group did not have enough notice to respond, especially since many of them were gone for the winter.

The first section of trail opened in 2012, with a section ending at Bohemian Road in Cleveland Township opening last year.

The final section will take it to County Road 651 at Good Harbor Beach, where it will end.

“People love the trail,” Ulrich said. “We hope to complete it as intended, which is to connect all the major attractions in the park, ending at Good Harbor Beach.”

Another section will also be added to the southern end of the trail that will pick up at LaCore Road south of Empire and head to the Benzie County line. That southern portion of the trail now ends at LaCore Road.

THE MONEY TRAIL

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail has been constructed in four phases so far:

June 2012: The first 4-mile section of trail opens connecting the Dune Climb to Glen Arbor. Cost: $1.4 million

June 2014: The hilly 5.5-mile section from the Dune Climb to Empire opens. Cost: $3.4 million

May 2015: The 3.5-mile section connecting Fisher Road east of Glen Arbor to the Port Oneida Rural Historic District opens. The section includes 600 feet of boardwalk over wetlands. Cost: $2.3 million

Fall 2016: The 3.6-mile section from Port Oneida to Bohemian Road opens that includes a section of boardwalk over Narada Lake. Cost: 2.4 million

The last 5.2-mile section on its northern end will likely take the trail around Little Traverse Lake. A cost estimate for that section has not yet been done.

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