By NICHOLAS BLASKOWSKI
Capital News Service
LANSING – Chris Hillier of Taylor is on a hike of historic proportions.
The former Army medic and current cardiovascular technologist said he’s logged more than 6,000 miles of hiking since 2011, mostly across Michigan.
His new journey takes him from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood, a Western Upper Peninsula city bordering Wisconsin.
The 924-mile hike will make Taylor the first to tackle the trail route proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder last November. The plan, to be funded in part from the Natural Resource Trust Fund, would connect existing pathways – about 70 percent of the route – with new trails to showcase the state’s waterways, diverse forests and wildlife.
“My goal for this hike is to raise awareness of the breathtaking sights Michigan has to offer, while promoting active lifestyles for tourists and nearby residents of the trails,” said Hillier, who is nicknamed “Wolverine” by fellow hikers.
And like in a scene out of the film “Forrest Gump,” Hillier said people sometimes join him during his long hikes.
A smartphone will update his progress during a journey he estimates will take 10 weeks, ending in late July.
“I’ll be highlighting key spots along the way, as well as keeping up with family, friends, and even interested news media,” Hillier said. “Most of the process will be finding my way, and for that I’ll use Google Earth.”
Google Earth also allows Hillier to take a virtual tour of his path before he hits a trail segment.
That may come in handy. Segments of the proposed corner-to-corner trail won’t be developed for another couple of years, so Hillier will improvise by traveling part of the way on city streets.
Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, said the precise route of Snyder’s proposed system is not yet determined.
“We’re still waiting on funding and partners who donate for building of trails and connecting the current ones,” she said,
While Michigan is already a major destination for hiking and bicycling enthusiasts, Krupiarz said the project could cement its spot as the number-one trail state while boosting local economies.
For example, the 62-mile North Central State Trail, once the northernmost segment of the Michigan Central Railroad, will soon become a stretch on the signature trail. The newly resurfaced trail draws vacationers to Cheboygan near the end of the segment.
“It becomes bigger every year. Tourists who are looking for a more active lifestyle come from all around to see the natural beauty of the trails connecting to our town,” said Matthew Friday, executive director of the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’re taking a break from the trail to shop in our stores, eating at our restaurants and staying in our hotels.”
Department of Natural Resources officials are already working out details with the Trails & Greenways Alliance. One crucial detail is trail maintenance, which Krupiarz said might be done by nonprofit volunteer groups or hiking enthusiasts.
“The amount of maintenance needed for a trail this long is plenty and could range from anything from trash pickup to repairing damage caused by rodents,” Krupiarz said.
Already this spring, 7,300 hours of volunteer work were logged to maintain Belle Isle Park along the Detroit River opposite Windsor, Ont. It’s the southeasternmost terminus on the proposed trail.
There’s been great progress to furbish the park, preparing it for 7½ miles of trail, said managing steward Mebby Pearson of the Belle Isle Conservancy.
“Our conservancy has been working to create safe trails on the island by removing invasive plants and trash,” Pearson said. “We have put the island in a great position to receive much-needed grant funding.”
As for Hillier – the long-distance hiker –when people ask why he does so many miles for weeks at a time, he replies that he just enjoys hiking.
Nicholas Blaskowski writes for Great Lakes Echo.
Online resources for CNS editors
Chris Hillier’s blog
Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance
By NICHOLAS BLASKOWSKI