LAWRENCE — Residents and stakeholders from around Southwest Michigan gathered Tuesday evening at the Van Buren Conference Center to map out the future.

The summit, held by the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission (SWMPC) and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), was to update the Southwest Michigan Non-Motorized Plan and Bicycling Guide for Van Buren County.

These summits are being held in Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties to gather input on desired facilities and priorities to help develop a vision for the plan.

Marcy Hamilton, with the SWMPC, said the non-motorized plan for the seven-county area was last updated in 2011. Non-motorized facilities include trails or shared use paths, bike lanes and paved shoulders that connect communities.

She said having non-motorized trails between cities is important not just for recreation, but for businesses and people who don’t drive.

Brian Sanada, with MDOT, talked about MDOT’s non-motorized initiative and how having these plans in place help when road projects are being planned.

“It’s amazing what a couple of lines on a map can do to convince an engineer that we need to have some biking facilities,” he said.

Right now Sam Leatch, with Wightman, is working with a citizen planner to develop a trail from Paw Paw to Mattawan.

He said working with MDOT, and other entities, has been a huge part of the process and getting those plans on the updated maps is important to give an even greater chance the trail is developed.

The about 20 attendees of the summit Tuesday identified several priorities, including the Paw Paw to Mattawan trail, it would like to see on the updated plan.

For on-road, they’d like to see expansion in the Sister Lakes Area and a shoulder on County Road 681 between Bangor and the Kal-Haven Trail. Some sort of bicycle lane on M-43 from Bangor to South Haven was also proposed, as well as trails from Lawton to Paw Paw and Decatur to I-94.

Regarding off-road facilities, their main priority is developing the Fruit Belt Trail from Hartford to Paw Paw. They also want to see improvements to the Van Buren Trail from Hartford to South Haven and some sort of north/south connector between Mattawan and the Kal-Haven Trail.

Hamilton had the attendees mark those priorities on three maps that will get used to create the full updated plan for the seven counties.

She said attendees at Berrien County’s event in February filled out 10 maps, and those at Cass County’s event last week filled out three.

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