Construction on a major link in the historic Iron Ore Heritage Trail began this week, and it will connect the area where the first iron mines were dug to the port where the ore has been shipped from for about 150 years.
Crews are clearing the pathway that will run for nearly 12 miles from Negaunee into Marquette, passing a number of sites that are related to the early mining era of the region. Paving of the section is expected to be completed early next summer.
Heading east from Negaunee, the trail will run parallel to County Road 492 to near the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, which will serve as a trailhead. From there, the trail will follow the Eagle Mills railroad grade toward Marquette, featuring former granite quarries.
With the current portion of the trail running past old mining sites, the Negaunee to Marquette portion will focus on industries and activities that supported the mines, such as quarries and farms.
It will run behind U.S. 41 businesses and cross the highway on the old Soo Line Railroad bridge in Marquette, then continue on to the existing bike path in the city.
The current project, costing about $1.6 million, according to trail officials, is being paid for with a federal Transportation Enhancement grant and a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Funneled through the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the grants were announced earlier this year.
When fully complete, the trail will run about 48 miles from Republic Township into Chocolay Township and offer hikers and bicyclists a good look at the iron ore industry through interpretive signs at trailheads and other key locations.
Iron ore mining is such a vital component of the region's history - from the mid 1800s through today - that such a trail will undoubtedly promote tourism as well as healthy activities, which are positive influences on the people who live in and visit the area.