SOUTH HAVEN — Over the past decade South Haven governmental officials and various non-profit groups have spent more than $2 million and many hours of volunteer time to develop a network of recreational trails.
Tuesday their efforts paid off with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources naming South Haven as one of the first Pure Michigan Trail Town in the state.
Officials from the DNR, Travel Michigan and Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance traveled to South Haven to spread the good news. Three other municipalities in Michigan also were named Trail Towns – the city of Charlevoix, city of Houghton and village of Newberry in the Upper Peninsula.
“People are recognizing the importance of recreational trails in Michigan,” said Paul Yauk, state trail coordinator for the DNR. “We thought why not give recognition to the best of the best? We wanted to use the Pure Michigan name because it is recognized throughout the country.”
The DNR also recognized a half-dozen trails in the state with the designation of “Pure Michigan Trails." They are the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Marquette County, Leelanau Trail in Leelanau County, Polly Ann Trailway in Oakland County, Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail in Leelanau County, The Charcoal Grade Trail in Luce County and the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail in Muskegon and Oceana counties.
South Haven was chosen as a Trail Town because of the time local governments and groups have spent over the years expanding and linking recreational trails to and from South Haven.
The designation of Trail Town will most likely attract a greater number of trail enthusiasts to South Haven, but also could lead to a greater chance of receiving grants for future trail development and maintenance.
“These trails didn't happen overnight,” Mayor Scott Smith said. “It took years of work. I look for more to come.”
It wasn't a coincidence that South Haven was picked as the location to announce the new trail towns, according to Yauk.
“We're at a hub,” Yauk told the 75 or so people who attended Wednesday's gathering at Riverfront Park, which is sandwiched between the city's downtown and the Lake Michigan waterfront.
By “hub,” he was referring to the city's waterfront location, which can be reached easily by bicyclists and watercraft utilizing recreational trails.
“The access to a broad network of trails from downtown is good,” said Scott Reinert, executive director of the South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There's actually 14 recreational trails that emanate through South Haven.”
Most, he said, are geared toward bicyclists. But others, like the Bangor-South Haven Heritage Water Trail along the Black River or the nature trails at Pilgrim Haven Natural Area cater to water enthusiasts and nature lovers.
One of the key players in trail development has been former South Haven Mayor Bob Burr.
“Indiana is referred to as the Crossroads of America,” said Burr, who is now a member of the South Haven Visitors Bureau's board of directors. “I like to think of South Haven as the Crossroads of Bicycling.”
Each year, the DNR plans to select more recreational paths and cities and Pure Michigan Trail Towns or Pure Michigan Trails.