Clinton County is joining the rail-to-trail movement

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By Meghan Callan
Clinton County Chatter staff reporter

ST. JOHNS — Trails strengthen the social, recreational, and economic fabric of a community and Clinton County is joining the movement.

In Spring 2015, the Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee (CIS) Rail Trail was completed and developed by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

According to the DNR, a coalition of federal, state and local funding, accumulating to a $300,000 budget, was used to finance the trail. Located in mid-Michigan, the trail extends 41.3 miles through urban and rural areas amongst the three counties of Clinton, Ionia and Shiawassee.

According to Tom Olson, a coordinator for the Clinton County Parks and Green Space Commission, the trail is managed by Michigan’s DNR and the local City Council which keeps the land preserved for all three communities.

Olson believes the trail has and will continue to bring in a positive flow of tourists who will support and benefit the local businesses of Clinton County.

Lawrence R. Allen, an expert in parks, recreation and tourism management at Clemson University, stands by Olson’s statement, believing the trail will be a tremendous community resource.

“These types of trails throughout the U.S. have generated significant economic impact from the users the trails attract, either local or non-residents,” said Allen.

Allen believes the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C. is an excellent example of a trail generating tourism for an area.

The Clemson International Institute of Tourism, Research, and Development conducted a three-year impact study on the Swamp Rabbit Trail within the first few years of the trail opening.

The economic impact portion of the study for year three shows over 501,000 trail users per year and 25 percent of those trail users coming from out of town, representing $6.7 million in trail tourism.

Clinton County Clerk Diane Zuker said the CIS Rail Trail has not only benefited the community economically but recreationally as well.

“It’s a very positive thing for the County of Clinton, it’s a beautiful stretch of land that extends all the way to Grand Rapids and there are constantly people walking and biking the trail,” said Zuker.

Local resident Vicki VanDeusen is one of the many Clinton County residents who utilizes the recreational value of the trail on a daily basis.

“I walk two miles of the trail every day in the afternoon, and I often see people out walking and biking the trail, so I’d say it’s been a successful addition to the community,” said VanDeusen.

However, bikers have faced some difficulties while riding through certain sections of the trail. According to Olson, there are signs spread across the path reminding people that the CIS trail is a non-motorized, non-equestrian location, yet some have chosen to ignore these restrictions.

“We have had some problems with people taking their horses on the rail trail. The horse hooves are causing ruts in it so when people try to bike, they face charter bumps,” said Zuker.

Olson said there is up to a $500 fine for those caught riding horses on the trail.

Furthermore, Olson said the trail is not completely paved throughout each county. According to Olson the rural areas of the trail are either not paved or are made of a limestone base that hasn’t had enough time to set in yet.

“When you get into the local jurisdictions like ours, out in the rural area it isn’t completely paved. It’s only paved in the cities and extending one mile outside each city limit in each direction and then the villages the same out from the summit limits,” said Zuker.

In addition, according to Olson there is no source of lighting or security implemented along the rural areas of the trail.

Allen believes lack of security on a recreational trail like the CIS Rail Trail could be an issue.

“Just like any other development in a community, security should be provided. Security should be a part of the overall planning for the trail,” said Allen.

However, St. Johns Chief of Police Kyle Knight said there have been no assaults or serious crimes that have taken place on the trail thus far.

Littering has been one of the only smaller reported civil offenses in regards to the trail. However according to Zuker, Clinton County is doing its’ part to control the amount of debris.

“The trail has been a great service project for some of the local Boy Scouts. I saw them out there cleaning up the trail and I told them how much I appreciated what they were doing,” said Zuker.

Additionally, Olson said the trail cuts right behind many residential properties; therefore, many homeowners will take it upon themselves to help clear parts of the trail located near their property.

Through the CIS Trail’s main website, citizens of Clinton, Ionia and Shiawassee counties are encouraged to sign up to volunteer cleaning the trail and aiding in its’ maintenance.

“The trail is still relatively new, however it has already generated a new sense of community in the area of Clinton, and I know it will only grow as a positive resource for the residents of the county,” said Olson.

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