HOWARD CITY, Mich. (WOOD) — State officials said after a Wednesday evening meeting that they will look into options other than covering about half of the White Pine Trail with limestone, but it was not immediately clear precisely what would happen to the state’s longest trail.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has organized more than $4.1 million in state, private and federal funding to work on the trail that runs from Grand Rapids to Cadillac, including rebuilding two of its bridges. $2.8 million of the overall figure would go toward removing what’s currently covering about 40 miles of the trail and replacing it with a base and crushed limestone.
People who use the trail are against that plan. They say limestone is slippery when went, dusty when dry, and makes bicycling and rollerblading nearly impossible.
With many trail users against the limestone, a handful of West Michigan state senators and representatives sent a letter to the DNR asking it to hold the project. The DNR agreed to a 30-day delay until after a Wednesday informational meeting with local lawmakers and residents in Plainfield Township.
That meeting was standing room only. Out of the 100 or so people who showed up, only two were in favor of the limestone.
Josh Pellow, the unit supervisor for the White Pine Trail State Park, told 24 Hour News 8 in a phone interview earlier Wednesday that many of the grants the state received for the project are dependent on crushed limestone being used to cover the trail.
“It’s either this or nothing and then start the whole process back over again,” Pellow said — though another official said Wednesday night that the DNR may be allowed to use the grants in other ways.
The DNR has been responsible for the trail since the early 1990s and has only been able to pave about half of it, Pellow said. He added that the limestone option, which has been in the works since 2013, would allow the entire trail to become accessible, rather than continuing to pave only a handful of miles at a time with asphalt.
Pellow said that it would cost about $100,000 more per mile to pave the trail with asphalt. He also said limestone is easier for the DNR to maintain.
People who use the trail say it’s the wrong thing to do.
“I look at this trail as the I-75 of trails in Michigan. I think this really is the way to go north,” said Ron Baker, a Montcalm County commissioner and a member of the Friends of the White Pine Trail. “The right thing in my mind would be asphalt.”
He has volunteered hundreds of hours for years to maintain the trail and he thinks it needs to be properly paved.
“The ability for people with a wheelchair or walkers or people who want to walk and want a stable situation will not have it on limestone, in my opinion,” Baker said.
Baker said he would rather see the trail paved correctly rather than have about half of it covered in limestone.
“We’d rather have it done right, and we’d rather have it paved from the population centers north,” Baker said.
Many people at Wednesday’s meeting — most of whom were bicyclists — said they would not use the trail if it is limestone and would rather the money go toward paving only 10 miles than cover the full 40 miles with limestone.
So is that possible considering the DNR’s funding sources? It’s still not clear.
“That’s what we are going to go back and sort some things out,” DNR Chief of Parks and Recreation Ron Olsen told 24 Hour News 8 after the meeting. “There are some good ideas brought up tonight. We’re going to work with MDOT and the Michigan Natural Resource Grant Fund to see what’s possible.”
DNR officials said they should have a better idea in about a week of what they can do with the grant money.