SOUTH HAVEN — Kal-Haven Trail is making history, as the 34-mile path is the first in the state to be part of a new project that mixes heritage with recreation.
Signs denoting historic facts about the trail, which was a former railroad bed, will be erected for people to view as part of a pilot program to integrate heritage with recreation on linear trails across the state.
“There will be roughly 30 panels (signs) spread along the 34 miles of the Kal-Haven that are generally focused on the laying of the (railroad) line, the communities that sprang up along it – those that are no longer, and the physical geography/geology of this part of Michigan,” said Jeff Green, Friends of Kal-Haven Trail vice president.
The first of those signs was installed recently just east of the covered bridge spanning the south branch of the Black River in South Haven Township.
The remainder of the signs are expected to be in place by August.
Members of the Friends of the Kal-Haven Trail worked closely with Michigan History Center staff for more than three years developing the project.
“This is a remarkable project that gives breadth and depth for visitors to the Kal-Haven,” Green said. “It was a pilot project whose success, even before installation, is now being duplicated on three other trails in the state.”
Dedicated in 1989, the Kal-Haven Trail is the cornerstone of Michigan’s network of linear trails, according to the Michigan History Center. At that time, Michigan Department of Natural Resources planners described the trail as a “demonstration project” and a “pioneering effort,” because the conversion of rail corridors to trails was a relatively new concept.
Just as the development of the Kal-Haven Trail helped lay the groundwork for the state’s trail system, it is now the pilot heritage project for other trails.
“The project was spearheaded by Dan Spegel at the Michigan History Center,” Green said. “He held a meeting around three years ago in Bloomingdale, which I attended, as I was new to the area and wanted to learn more. This is not a project the Friends came up with but it is one they wholeheartedly embraced.”
Friends members Sue Hodapp, Dick Godfrey and Green were active in gathering information and research for the project.
The goal was to install interpretive signs along the trail, develop native plant gardens, create a multi-sensory natural display at Mentha, and roll out an innovative mobile app designed for increased accessibility. Other heritage interpretation methods will be implemented in the future.
“Last year, at the suggestion of Master Gardener Sue Hodapp, we planted a raised bed of mint, ‘Todd’s Black Mitchem,’ which was developed by Albert M. Todd when he ran the farm that produced the world’s largest supply of mint oil at Mentha, a ghost town today,” Green explained. “An earlier variety of mint had been wiped out by a blight. We’ve included a watering can so that during dry times visitors could use the nearby hand-pump and give our mint a little refreshment. While we weren’t sure if the mint would come back after the winter it has – and nicely at that. It is an attraction that people who traverse that section of the trail often comment on.”
An official ribbon cutting is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 3.
“Dozens of people from several states and tribal nations contributed their knowledge to make this thing happen and working with the DNR staff both at the Kal-Haven State Park and the Michigan History Center has been nothing short of remarkable,” Green said. “While some people were more deeply involved than others, there were no minor participants since any information, no matter how small, played a role in the overall project and made it more complete. It’s those little tidbits of remembrances people think aren’t important that can change everything once placed in context and we have scores of examples of such.”