2018-08-16 / Life in Leelanau

Five miles left as Heritage Trail approaches finish line

By Kelsey Pease
of the Enterprise staff

Twenty-two down, five to go.

Less than a decade after the first leg of the 27-mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail connected Empire to the Dune Climb, project organizers and partners are eyeing the finish line.

“We’re all excited to have the last sections done,” said Kerry Kelly, chairman of Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes (FSBD), which maintains and monitors the trail year-round. “It’s almost like every section of the trail has its own unique character and we’re looking forward to this one’s mixture of forests, dunes and agricultural history.”

The end of the road remains just out of reach, with fundraising well underway.

According to Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, National Park Service partner Networks Northwest has hired a contractor that has drawn a preliminary design for the last leg, which will take a controversial path along the north shore of Little Traverse Lake. The final segments will connect Good Harbor Beach at the end of County Road 651 and the Leelanau County line, just south of Empire.

The bill for that last leg, though, will come to about $3 million. The soonest possible completion date is now 2021 — and that’s putting it on the fast track, Ulrich said.

With the help of grants and funds raised from events such as the Dune Dash, a four-mile run/ walk along the trail, fundraising partner Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails is working toward matching federal dollars for the project.

Led by seven staffers and 14 volunteer board members, TART Trails has built and maintains more than 60 miles of trails in northwest Michigan. The nonprofit advocates for active living and outdoor recreation, hosts annual events that promote healthy lifestyles, and defends cyclist and pedestrian interests.

That puts the Heritage Trail at the center the nonprofit’s priorities.

“It’s proven to be such an important asset for Leelanau County’s people and places,” said Julie Clark, Tart Trails executive director.

The TART trail represents collaboration between private and public partners, she added.

“It’s strengthened relationships between all the organizations involved,” said Clark, who looks forward to working on more partnered projects.

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Really I don't understand how

Really I don't understand how anyone who loves the outdoors and nature and the beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can give money to fund this unnecessary extension. The dedicated bike trail through the Lakeshore is long enough. It gets people all the way from Empire to the center of Good Harbor Bay. There is no reason to destroy more trees and wetlands and wildlife habitat. Can't this remote part of the Lakeshore adjacent to the Wilderness zone be preserved in its natural state without manmade "improvements"? Please think about what's more important -- a few more miles of asphalt for bicyclists or the natural beauty of forest and wetlands left untouched by bulldozers and road-building equipment? Marilyn Miller Sleeping Bear Naturally