Let’s talk about the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

From the Traverse City Record Eagle | Get Outdoors | July 4, 2024

TART Trails has intentionally decided not to engage with a small but vocal group of homeowners on Little Traverse Lake who have been outspoken in dissent of the pathway to Good Harbor, known as Segment 9, of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

Recent events, conversations, and the publishing of “studies” they commissioned, some of which have been reported on by major mainstream media sources, led to our desire to set the record straight. We hope to illuminate the nearly two decades of ongoing work to bring this community project to life that aims to give more people non-motorized access to the national lakeshore.

The pathway to Good Harbor is roughly 4.5 miles of trail that connects Bohemian Road (CR-669) and CR-651, providing non-motorized access to the northern end of the lakeshore. The origins of the Heritage Trail were conceived of by those wishing to experience the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore outside the confines of a car, something much more difficult before the first segments of trail were constructed. The Heritage Trail welcomes visitors of all ages and abilities to venture beyond the highway and parking lot. Recreators experience the environment at a human-scale, noticing the ecosystems changing along the trail, discovering perfect patches of wildflowers, and sensing Lake Michigan just around the corner.

We believe that the outdoor adventurers of today have the potential to be the fiercest defenders of wild places tomorrow. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study that concluded “time spent in nature leads to increased perceived value for connectedness to nature and, subsequently, greater pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors.” The balance of accessibility, experience, and conservation makes the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail an invaluable asset to the community and the long term protection of the environment.

This project will make this a one-of-a-kind National Lakeshore where people can access the entire park on foot or by bike. This trail is an investment extending beyond our lifetime and fits into the long-term vision of a more connected Leelanau County in future generations.

With any development, there will be environmental impacts surrounding the trail. These impacts have not and will not occur without thought and care. From the outset of planning the entire 27-mile trail, there has been a clear focus on routing through existing road beds, old rail line, and in the right of way of M-22, all priorly disrupted ecosystems.

We are fortunate to have our partners at the Lakeshore, our nation’s experts in management of natural areas, who bring with them clear and prescriptive regulations and policies that inform design and engineering processes. Each milestone of engineering has been met with peer review from the National Park Service, ensuring we meet their appropriate guidelines. Trail design and engineering will go through required permitting processes through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The Pathway to Good Harbor will continue to go through rigorous review at both a state and federal level until a constructible, and ecologically sensitive design is permitted.

To be direct, there will be trees cut down in order to build this pathway. We have heard loud and clear from folks that this is a particular area of concern, and we share in that. Project partners will continue working to protect the tree canopy and forest. We have the ability to maneuver around the healthy and mature trees, as seen on existing parts of the Heritage Trail that meander through wooded areas — and this will be done wherever possible.

By maintaining and expanding the Heritage Trail, we can foster the next generation of environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts who understand and prioritize the protection of and access to natural, conserved spaces. We can provide a safe place for exploration and recreation for our families. We can change the way that we get around our public lands, our communities, our region. Together, and responsibly, we can shape a better tomorrow. We hope to see you on the trail.