$4.5 million rail trail rebuild project to start in May

November 15, 2014
Joel Mikkelsen, who was key to making the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Rail Trail a reality with its namesake Bill Field, addresses the audience during a meeting that focused on rebuilding the 25-year-old trail.

Joel Mikkelsen, who was key to making the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Rail Trail a reality with its namesake Bill Field, addresses the audience during a meeting that focused on rebuilding the 25-year-old trail.

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

WHITEHALL — Over 30 officials representing roughly 20 different organizations recently heard about an ambitious $4.5 million project to rebuild the 22-mile William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail this summer.

Representatives from the Michigan DNR, City of Hart, City of Montague, Oceana County Parks and Recreation, West Shore Snow Council, DTE, Hart Main Street, Hart Township, Community Foundation of Oceana County, Prein & Newhof, Sen. Goeff Hansen’s office, Hallack Contracting, Rieth-Riley Construction, West Shore Snowmobile Council, Michigan Department of Transportation, White Lake Chamber of Commerce, West Michigan Outdoor Group, and MC Smith Associates & Architectural Group met at the White Lake Community Library Thursday afternoon, Nov. 13, to learn about the project’s details.

Officials said bids will be awarded in February, and the project is set to begin to May with a fall completion. The project entails re-paving the entire trail, widening it from 8 feet to 10 feet across. Work crews will tackle the project in three approximate eight-mile sections, beginning at the south end, officials said. The first section will go from Montague to Rothbury; the second portion will extend from Rothbury to Shelby; and the final section will go from Shelby to Hart. Overlooks, trestle bridges and the

MDNR's Manny Valdez goes over the rail trail rebuild project.

MDNR’s Manny Valdez goes over the rail trail rebuild project.

parking area in Hart will also be refurbished.

The bulk of the project’s funding comes from federal and state trail grants totaling $3,257,800, which is 73 percent of the total cost. State general funds chip in $1 million, which is 23 percent; and local funds account for $180,000, which is 4%.

The 25-year-old trail was the vision of its now namesake, William Field, who passed away in 2005. An asparagus and cherry farmer, Field was the unstoppable force behind what is Michigan’s first paved  trail. The trail originally was part of the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad built in 1872, and then became part of the C&O Railroad, which abandoned the line in 1982. Field began his unrelenting efforts in 1982 to convert the passage into a recreational trail, despite being met with strong opposition. He spent $175,000 of his own money to purchase the 22-mile strip of land and then donated it to the state. His perseverance finally paid off in 1989 when the first 11 miles of the trail were completed and opened for the public to enjoy.

A view along the trail earlier this fall.

A view along the trail earlier this fall.

“It truly was not a welcome thing at the time,” said Field’s sister  Marge Peterson. “To quote my brother, ‘It is the first rail trail state park ever.’” Peterson said the trail would not have become a reality without the tireless efforts of Joel Mikkelsen as well. Mikkelsen, who also attended the meeting, suggested ways to make the trail safer near intersections and other other potentially dangerous areas. He said there has been only fatality on the trail in its 25-year history, which was a snowmobile crash. The trail, used by bicyclists, runners and walkers in the spring, summer and fall, is actively utilized by snowmobilers during the winter.

“This is a great day in Oceana County and Muskegon County,” said Hart City Manager Stan Rickard, who opened the meeting with historical information about the beloved trail. “All of our paths converged here today.

“We owe a lot of gratitude to Bill Field,” Rickard said. “Joel Mikkelsen and Bill Field were instrumental in making the rail trail a reality.” The rebuild project has been nearly four years in the making, he said.

“It has been collaborative effort among a lot of people to make it successful,” said Manny Valdez of the MDNR.

Officials said the new pavement will be much more durable than the current surface to accommodate snowmobile users and also to prevent cracking from root growth underneath it. The basic plan is to “crush it; grate it out; and re-pave it,” said Annamarie Bauer of the MDNR.

The route extended in 2003 into Whitehall via the White Lake Pathway. There has also been a recent effort to eventually extend the passage north into Pentwater.

Hart City Manager Stan Rickard addresses the audience at the White Lake Community Library.

Hart City Manager Stan Rickard addresses the audience at the White Lake Community Library.

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