By Ally Hamzey
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
Diahann Curtis, a Shiawassee County resident, walks on trails frequently in Meridian Township when the sun is shining and the weather is cooperative. The avid trail walker says she appreciates the feeling of safety from motor vehicles when walking on a non-motorized trail.
Curtis believes the upcoming trail connecting Lake Lansing in Haslett to Michigan State University in East Lansing will be beneficial, but she is not sold that the trail would be the most practical use of taxpayer dollars.
“One of the downsides would be that the Lansing area already has a nice trail,” Curtis said. “The amount of the money that will go into [this trail] I think could be better spent in other areas.”
But township officials differ on that viewpoint.
Meridian Township Chief Engineer Younes Ishraidi said there is “no question” if the trail will be beneficial to the community. The chief engineer said the trail would encourage a healthy style of living and the trail will encourage the walkability and livable aspect of the community.
“There are safety, health, and economic advantages,” Ishraidi said.
The plan to link Lake Lansing to Michigan State University via a walking trail is targeted to begin the first phase of construction in early 2018.
The non-motorized trail will be “a unique way to travel for pedestrians and very safe for bikers and pedestrians,” according to Ishraidi.
The chief engineer said the first phase for the project involves processing a grant, which will be the primary funding source for the trail. The other sources will be from potential contributions from various businesses in the area and parks and recreation taxes from the community.
“We have an estimate of about $1.7 million for phase one,” Ishraidi said.
Ishraidi said the trail will encourage citizen willingness to walk to destinations, whether it be a recreation destination or place of work.
“It is essentially a link that will allow non-motorized users a safe use of the trails and convenience,” Ishraidi said.
Curtis said she presumes that commerce is one of multiple potential advantages of the projected five-mile trail.
“This is a safe area and [the trail] will expose people to areas they haven’t ever seen,” Curtis said. “Commerce would be a benefit — maybe you could stop along that trail and get an ice cream cone.”
Michigan State University Associate Professor Sarah Nicholls of the Sustainable Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department said emergence of plans for new trails can be a result of a “community member or parks professional that identifies the desirability of or the need for a connection between two places, whether for transportation or recreation purposes.”
“Community members are increasingly demanding trails based on the expectation of these benefits and because they have also seen more and more as tourism attractions,” Nicholls said.
Nicholls said that “identifying and acquiring sufficient funding for construction and for ongoing maintenance” is one of the most common delays in the trail construction process.
Halva Vannornan, resident of Ingham County, does not usually walk on trails, but would be willing to give this upcoming trail a stroll.
“I think it would be good for everybody out here, especially the students,” Vannornan said. “It would save gas money for students. It would also be very good exercise and help with the environment.”
Vannornan believes the request for Meridian Township residents to pay 30 percent of the costs of the trail may be a hinder to the project.
“I guess many people aren’t going to be able to afford [the taxes] because they don’t have the money, and others would say, ‘Why won’t the government pay for this?’” Vannornan said. “So that could be a handicap.”
The funding of this project has not been a concern limited solely to residents. The plan for the trail had been slowed down for almost two decades mainly due to the challenge of funding, according to Ishraidi.
“[With] the way things are shaking out now, we are looking to start at the earliest 2018 because of all these things we have to go through- the funding, easements and permits,” Ishraidi said.