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Task Force Releases Multimodal Path Maps and Report

When my wife and I visited Traverse City and the Leelanau Peninsula eight years ago for a long weekend, I came away thinking Door County could learn a lot from our twin community in Michigan. But among all I was inspired by in Michigan’s own land of cherries, shoreline and wineries, what I’ve thought about nearly every day since I left is their bike and pedestrian trail network. 

The Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails (TART) is a 100-mile network of off-road and on-road bike and pedestrian paths that connects many small communities to each other, to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, and to Traverse City.

The communities of the Leelenau Peninsula, through the Traverse Area Recreational Trail network, have created a 100-mile network of trails and paths over 30 years.

So when Bret Bicoy of the Door County Community Foundation called me two years ago to ask if I’d be interested in sitting down with a few other folks who wanted to explore the possibility of something similar on our peninsula, he didn’t have to ask me twice. 

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This ad hoc gathering of government officials, environmental groups and trail enthusiasts became the Door County Multimodal Trails task force, organized under the umbrella of the Door County Green Fund. We quickly realized that we did not want to embark on another expensive study to sit alongside the many studies gathering dust in local archives. The county already has a comprehensive bike plan that was adopted in 2014 but has yielded little. 

What we wanted to create was something that could inspire action and collaboration. It had to be accessible, understandable and digestible for citizens and decision makers. Something that might just nudge some decisions in a better direction. 

The off-road path along Highway 42 at the south end of Sister Bay terminates at the bottom of the Little Sister Hill. Using a $90,000 grant from the Community Investment Fund program, the village is designing an extension to get the path up the hill, where it could connect with a proposed north-end path in Ephraim. Photo by Myles Dannhausen Jr.

The result is the Door County Multi-Modal Trails Task Force Report, a collection of maps and information designed by Sophie Parr of Civic 4. The maps include a county-wide look, plus zoom-in maps focused on particular municipalities and project areas. These are gleaned from conversations with officials and residents in every Door County municipality and include all of the existing trails (unfortunately there are few), all of those in planning (fortunately there are many!) and official on-road bike facilities. 

At a glance, one can now see the gaps in the network (or opportunities, if you prefer to look through a different lens). 

Yes, it’s just a map. But it’s also a quick reference for residents and decision makers to visualize how individual proposed trail projects fit into the wider network of connections we hope will be created in the coming years and decades. 

The idea is to get us to think outside of our municipal silos. 

Three years ago I was sitting in a meeting in Ephraim when an ad hoc capital projects committee was discussing the half-mile, north-end trail project. A committee member asked a logical, smart question. “What is the point of a half-mile trail? What will a cyclist do when they get to the end of it?”

It’s a smart question, and a version of one that comes up often when we’re not aware of what our neighbors are up to.

What that committee did not know at the time was that Sister Bay was also discussing a trail project to get its short stretch of off-road trail up the Little Sister Hill. Or that Peninsula State Park was finalizing a master plan for its trails that would include an off-road path between Gibraltar School and the top of the Ephraim hill. Or that in Egg Harbor, the village had secured grant money to build Northern Door County’s first on-road bike lanes and there were rumblings of a much larger trail network (what would become the Egg Harbor Trails Project).

Examples of the maps produced by the Door County Multi-Modal Trails Task Force. View the report and maps at DoorCountyGreenFund.org. To sign up for updates about the Door County Trails Initiative, email [email protected].

If that committee in Ephraim, or a similar committee in another municipality, had access to that information at their fingertips, it might act differently. A path that seems futile in the silo of one community, could instead seem vital and stir the excitement of possibility. 

That’s what has happened in Traverse City. In 1998, four disconnected trail groups in the area combined to grow their impact, building and expanding its network in increments big and small.

“If you make it too big, you fail,” Julie Clark, the executive director of TART told me. TART now has 14 full and part-time staff members dedicated to providing recreation and transportation opportunities through preserving open space corridors, building trails and advocating for active living and outdoor recreation. 

“We go where communities are ready to engage and we make meaningful connections within that community,” Clark said. “We work with communities that want to build trails, we do not bring you trails.”

In the years since our task force first met, some of these silos have already eroded. Susan Stauber has worked relentlessly to move the conversation forward in the Village of Egg Harbor, expanding the trail conversation to include Gibraltar and the Town of Egg Harbor. And the communities of Sister Bay, Ephraim, Gibraltar and Egg Harbor are working together with Gibraltar School and Peninsula State Park on the Bayshore Trail Feasibility Study

Examples of the maps produced by the Door County Multi-Modal Trails Task Force. View the report and maps at DoorCountyGreenFund.org. To sign up for updates about the Door County Trails Initiative, email [email protected].

This task force has also led to the formation of the new Door County Trails Initiative, created in partnership with Destination Door County, to help move the ball forward. 

Here’s hoping that 25 years in the future, a task force in some far-off community is calling Door County to learn how we did it.

View the Door County Multi-modal Task Force Report and maps at DoorCountyGreenFund.org. To sign up for updates about the Door County Trails Initiative, email [email protected].

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