Albion to Become Key Hiking, Biking Hub

State grant will formally connect Iron Belle, Great Lake-to-Lake, North Country trails

December 8, 2015 | By Chuck Carlson

Michigan trails graphic courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The Iron Belle, Great Lake-to-Lake and North Country trails all go through Albion; a state grant will soon link them. Click on image for a larger view. (Courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Thanks to a partnership between the City of Albion and Albion College, a one-mile recreational trail will wind its way through the community and help make Albion a hub for several state and national trail systems.

The Albion River Trail Expansion Project is part of a statewide $28 million recommendation from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board of directors and could be ready for public use by the end of 2016.

The project, through a $294,000 grant written by both city and College officials, will create a hub for several regional trail networks, including the Iron Belle Trail, the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail and the North Country Trail, the latter of which is the longest scenic hiking trail in the United States.

"The most critical reason for this project being funded was to establish a formal section of the Iron Belle Trail," said Gregg Strand, a city planning commissioner and the College's director of corporate and foundation relations who helped write the grant in close cooperation with Albion City Manager Sheryl Mitchell. "This is a top priority of the Natural Resources Trust Fund."

The Iron Belle Trail runs from Belle Isle in the Detroit River to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula. It incorporates more than 1,200 miles of hiking paths and another 774 miles of biking paths. This portion is part of a plan to extend the trail west to Marshall and Battle Creek and east to Homer and Concord.

Strand applauded the work of city leaders, the Calhoun County Trailway Alliance and community partners to move the plan forward.

"It's a partnership between the city and College on almost every level," he said. "Collaborative proposals are always the most exciting to be a part of, and they are always the most likely to succeed."

The trail expansion will start at the eastern end of the Albion River Trail in Victory Park, extend south through College property that also overlooks the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center and exit on the far edge of Riverside Cemetery.

Mitchell said the idea for the trail grant actually came to her from an Albion College student, Danielle Nelson, `17, who interned for the city through the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service and the Class of 1960 Albion Community Intern Endowment.

"I had her working on how to bring a biking culture into Albion," she said.

From there, an informal group of trail supporters from around the area got together, and that led to the idea of applying for one of the trust fund grants.

"We saw that all three trails converged in Albion," Mitchell said. "We were the hub of three major trails and we wondered how could we move forward on connecting that?"

The plan was developed early this year and the grant proposal was submitted in April.

Mitchell said the trail expansion will be a major boost to the community.

"This is huge," she said. "It shows the Iron Belle Trail and its connection to Albion is a priority to the state and to the region. It will be very instrumental in exposure to the community."