Iron Belle Trail projects awarded grants

Hikers and bikers can enjoy the Iron Belle Trail as it skirts the Lake Superior shoreline in Marquette County. More than two dozen projects have been awarded $1.4 million in mini-grants. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

MARQUETTE — The North Country Trail Association has been awarded $50,000 for design of the Laughing Whitefish River Bridge in Alger County, one of more than two dozen projects along Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail that will share $1.4 million in public and privately raised funds.

The funds will help build connections along the trail, which stretches over 2,000 miles, and is the longest state-designated trail in the United States. The Iron Belle Trail runs along two separate routes: a hiking segment that mainly follows the North Country National Scenic Trail on the west side and an 800-mile bike trail running between Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood. The trail is just over 70 percent completed.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has awarded $815,884 in mini-grants, while the private Iron Belle Trail Fund has added another $650,000 to support multiple projects on the trail. Grants from these sources will leverage a matching $3 million in Iron Belle Trail projects.

The 25 DNR mini-grants include a $50,000 grant for construction of the Canyon Falls Boardwalk, also awarded to the NCTA, and $49,980 to the DNR for construction along the Tahquamenon River Trail at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

A $15,000 mini-grant was awarded to Crystal Falls Township for engineering of a Heritage Trail extension, while $8,000 will go toward signage for the Dickinson County Bike Path.

Kenny Wawsczyk, Michigan regional trail coordinator for the NCTA, explained the Laughing Whitefish and Canyon Falls projects in an email.

“The current structures (puncheon and staircases) leading to and from the river crossing are deteriorating and pose a major safety hazard for hikers,” Wawsczyk said of the Laughing Whitefish project. “The bridge over the Laughing Whitefish River is also deteriorating and is nearing the end of life expectancy. This section of trail is in a very remote area and with the number of structures besides the bridge, the proper design and implementation will be challenging.”

The Canyon Falls Boardwalk project will replace the existing structures found along the route of the North Country National Scenic Trail and Iron Belle Trail leading to the falls, he said. Several short sections will be added to maximize the sustainability of the trail, reduce the ecological damage and improve hikers’ safety and overall experience.

He also noted nearly 700 feet of type 3 puncheon — a post — and boardwalk will need to be constructed.

“There is existing puncheon and boardwalk currently built, but the material is decaying and becoming a hazard for the users,” Wawsczyk said. “The foundations used for the current structures were not pressure treated, and with the ground contact and consistent moisture, these structures have passed their life expectancy.”

All new material that will be in contact with the ground will be ground-contact pressure treated, he said, and because of the size of the project, a contractor will be needed. Volunteers will be used when able.

Connie Julien, president of the Peter Wolfe Chapter of the NCTA, said via email: “The PWC is very excited that this very popular section of the trail we maintain is getting this new boardwalk, which will improve the safety and enjoyment of this walk to the falls.

“We are also happy that folks can continue upstream from the Canyon Falls trailhead for more hiking along the river on the new NCT trail the PWC constructed last season, going east on the new NCT to old U.S. 41.”

For more information or to learn about the chapter’s monthly local trail hikes on the NCT, go to northcountrytrail.org/pwf or visit its Facebook page at Facebook.com/ NCT.PWC.Michigan.

“Momentum has been building for several years on the Iron Belle Trail, and these grants will ensure that it continues,” said Dakota Hewlett, Iron Belle Trail coordinator, in a news release. “Several communities have used the mini-grant process to study, engineer and, now, build segments of the trail. It’s exciting to see these plans come together.”

For more information on the Iron Belle Trail, visit Michigan.gov/IronBelle.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.