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Calhoun County Trailway paves the way for economic and community development in surrounding cities

Kirk Heinze, Danielle Nelson, Mark Lelle

by Kathleen Alexander

With the help of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and other public and private funders, the Calhoun County Trailway Alliance plans to utilize the unique nexus of cross-country and statewide trails within the county limits to improve public health and grow local business.

Dr. Mark Lelle, evaluation consultant, and Danielle Nelson, economics and public policy senior at Albion College, are on the board of the Calhoun County Trailway Alliance. The two meet with host, Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes to discuss the importance of creating a joint trail network.

Lelle explains that only 40 miles remain between the North Country Trail, stretching from New York to North Dakota, the Great Lakes Trail and the Iron Belle Trail. The goal is to establish a junction where the trails meet that will join Battle Creek, Marshall, Albion and Homer as an interconnected community of outdoor activity beside the pure Michigan beauty of the Kalamazoo River.

“It’s a really exciting trail project; we were very lucky to have what we have in Albion, in terms of the scenic view,” says Nelson.

However, the location of the trail hub also creates challenges for construction. Advocates must work to raise money to fund the detailed engineering required to design a path that crosses the Kalamazoo river and goes around Interstates 96 and 69.

Despite these challenges, the team has kept an environmentally-friendly focus by using crushed limestone from a nearby nature preserve and pavement to create six miles of new trail this year.

“Were trying to do paved where we can, “ says Lelle. “In hilly terrain, paved trail is actually better on the environment because you don’t get a lot of erosion and runoff.”

As the environment thrives from savvy construction, so will the businesses in surrounding cities, Lelle adds. He shares how data he previously collected while working for the Kellogg Foundation support his belief that recreational amenities draw young people to these difficult to redevelop post-industrial towns.

“It’s already having an impact that a lot of people don’t see,” he reveals.

Lelle offers the example of the Albion Heritage Inn bed and breakfast, a lovely Georgian Revival home built in 1912, that has enjoyed housing the many North Country Trail hikers passing through the area.

Nelson expands on Lelle’s expectations for the trail by explaining how her role in the project stems from her passion for urban revitalization. She is also confident that the trailway will foster community development in the county.

Greening of the Great Lakes airs inside MSU Today Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on AM 870.

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