Bikes Mean Business

ELK RAPIDS – Wanted: TART Trail expansion to Elk Rapids. Needed: Direction, connections and cash.

The Rotary Club of Elk Rapids has been looking at a connection to the TART Trail in Acme for years. Heading from Traverse City, the TART Trail currently ends at Bunker Hill Road in Acme Township. Then there is a gap, followed by another two-mile stretch that runs from Lautner Road to M-72/Bates Rd.

"Economically speaking, it would benefit our businesses and the whole community," says Misty Youngson of the Elk Rapids Chamber. "Cyclists still come to Elk Rapids, but it's not as easily accessible as it could be."

One only has to look at their neighbors to the west: Following completion of the paving of the 15.5-mile Leelanau Trail last summer – providing a non-motorized recreational connection from Traverse City to downtown Suttons Bay – village merchants reported a marked increase in business, all thanks to more bikers in town.

A lunchtime panel discussing a TART Trail expansion to Elk Rapids will kick-off the Northern Michigan Business Expo and Job Fair on Thurs., April 18, at the Williamsburg Dinner Theater. On the table: discussing the proposed idea of expanding the trail system from Acme to Elk Rapids to create a trail that extends from Suttons Bay to Elk Rapids and eventually beyond.

The panel will consist of Julie Clark, TART Trails; Megan Olds, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC); Kim Pontius, The Grand Vision; Dean Branson, Elk Rapids Rotary; Amy Jenema, Acme Township trustee. The moderator will be TV 7&4's Mark Schollett.

What exact path any eventual trail will take is a big part of the discussion, says Youngson.

"We have Yuba Creek, and it would be nice to route the trail by that, and then we also have Maple Bay [Park and Natural Area]," she says. "But, of course, they are on opposite sides of 31."

TART Trails Executive Director Julie Clark says that is what makes the project unique when compared to others in the area. "There is no given line, no obvious place for this trail," Clark says. "It will emerge more organically and we'll be looking for opportunities for connections with landowners, both public and private."

While that will make trail development take longer, she notes, it will also make the trail more interesting. "The design is not just about from 'A to Z,' but all the letters (i.e. assets) in between."

Ultimately, Clark says a trail connecting the communities along this stretch of U.S. 31 is really "the icing on the cake" for other projects already happening, including establishment of U.S. Bike Route 35 (USBR 35) in the area. "There's lots to be done and we're moving forward on those things. A trail is really the last thing to stitch together."

Another one of those projects moving forward is the Elk Rapids Downtown Development Authority exploring wayfinding routes for bicycle travel for both USBR 35 and in anticipation of an eventual trail. "So when a trail does come, we'll have a designated pathway to navigate cyclists through town," Youngson adds.

The April 18 lunch panel runs from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by contacting the Chamber, 264.8202. (Businesses exhibiting at the expo receive two tickets with their booth package.) Questions for the panelists can be emailed directly to Youngson, myoungson@elkrapidschamber.org

The Business Expo immediately follows the panel, 2-7 p.m., with a Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m.

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