New trail connector to go through Marquette Township park

The Marquette Township Board on Tuesday voted to approve the planning of a non-motorized connector trail near the northern border of Schwemwood Park. The half-mile-long trail will be funded by the Noquemenon Trail Network at an estimated cost of $22,000. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Progress is being made on a proposed non-motorized connector trail through Schwemwood Park in Marquette Township.

The Marquette Township Board unanimously approved a motion Tuesday to move forward with the planning and legal review of a half-mile trail along the northern border of the park.

The Noquemanon Trail Network made the request to develop the connector trail from the terminus of its existing trail at Schwemwood to the proposed U.S. 41 underpass tunnel via Schwemwood Park during a Marquette Township Recreation Committee meeting in August.

The NTN would pay the estimated $22,000 cost of construction of the proposed 27-inch-wide trail, which would be open to all non-motorized use, and not exclusive to bikers, Marquette Township Planning and Zoning Administrator Jason McCarthy told the board.

“It was designed with no jumps or bumps. It’s just a connector trail basically,” McCarthy said. “And NTN has agreed to assuming regular maintenance, clearing leaves, trees, and they also offered to rebuild or stabilize our pedestrian bridge which is in the park now and falling down.”

Several trustees said if the connector were built, the public would need to be educated about proper use including pedestrian right-of-way and walking dogs on the trail.

“Is there a way that we can put some signs saying that walkers have priority on the trail at the beginning and the ending,” Township Treasurer Ernie Johnson asked.

According to Michigan law, bicyclists must always yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, McCarthy said.

“You are going to have trail conflict unfortunately most of the time because you are going to have people who are accustomed to walking and people who are accustomed to biking and them running into each other on the trail,” McCarthy said. “But we feel that education goes a long way and if we can get some more information out there, people will start to realize that the pedestrian has the right-of-way always.”

Although several board members showed support for the project, Township Supervisor Lyn Durant said she was hesitant to embrace the idea as it could change due to past issues between bikers and pedestrians on township trails.

“It has been a couple of years since some of the NTN folks have had issues on some of their trails, and I haven’t heard any lately. But I walk that park a lot and have worked on it a lot,” Durant said. “That is obviously not going to be a walking trail. Its 27 inches, a lot of the riders in my experience, and I am not trying to make anybody mad, they want those trails for themselves — and I don’t think anyone is going to be able to walk on those trails. It becomes a bike trail, a bike park.”

Trustee David Wiegand, who is on the Recreation Committee, said the representative from NTN assured officials the trail would not be considered a competitive biking course.

“It’s a connector trail to get from Lost Creek over to the underpass and it’s not their plan to develop it to competition standards,” Wiegand said. “It’s a connector trail and that is what it will be used for. You never know, it could be an idea or a means by which we can start working together with another organization and start developing something that benefits both of us.”

McCarthy said the township could work with NTN to increase the width of the trail or explore elements of the written agreement to satisfy both parties.

“We see it as an opportunity to further our non-motorized transportation system, add some connectivity to the new tunnel and what will be the major connector, and we have the work being done for us, and the maintenance being provided by NTN,” McCarthy said. “Actually we have a chance to set a standard for future trail development here.”