Hidden gems: The coolest trails you've never heard of in West Michigan

From a historic rail line transformed into recreational space to breathtaking views of the Grand River, these are trails you don't want to miss.
If there's one thing that's true about trails, it's that they typically fall under the radar of the mainstream public, going unnoticed long after their construction projects break ground. Usually, trails are coveted only by the communities that worked hard to produce them. Over the past two years, Rapid Growth's Moments on the Trails series has celebrated the hundreds of pathways that criss-cross West Michigan and the state. As a final hurrah in this last article of the series, we will introduce you to some new trail projects that are sure to turn heads and make a lasting impression outside of the passionate community of trail enthusiasts.

The Grand River Explorer's Trail

With five years of project development, 30 total miles of trail, hundreds of acres of land acquisition, and $20 million projected development costs, this trail deserves its "grand" title. "They recently renamed the project because there will be so much to explore on this trail, and people will want to come back time and time again," says John Morrison, executive director of the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition.

With pieces of the project already developed, including sections connecting the southern boundary of Kent County with 144th Avenue and forming a pathway between Conner Bayou Park and Riverside Park, the project already has much to explore. As it develops, the explorer's trail will also connect Fred Meijer Millennium Park in Walker to Grand Haven. With the first phase set for completion this year, the final projected end date is 2021.

The North Bank Trail

"The North Bank Trail (NBT) is about many things to our community. Firstly, we are in the process of restoring and maintaining a historical transportation corridor between Grand Rapids and Grand Haven formerly known as the Grand Trunk Western Railroad," says Lukas Hill, AICP, community development director of Spring Lake Township. Acquiring the land from private owners that sold the former railroad in the 1970s, NBT developers hope to re-establish this essential path.

"Secondly, we feel that providing a rail trail that is separated from motorized vehicles in our active region offers a unique and safe experience for family adventure, athletes and those with disabilities," says Hill.

When complete, the trail will total 18 miles, connecting Spring Lake to Nunica and Nunica to the Musketawa and Fred Meijer Pioneer Trails in Marne. A little more than three miles have already been constructed in Spring Lake and Crockery Townships.

The Spoonville Trail

Set for final completion this fall, the first phase of the Spoonville Trail was finished in September 2016. When completed, the entire trail will be a 3.8-mile, non-motorized pathway that runs north to south, crossing the Grand River, the Grand River Explorer's Trail and the North Bank Trail. This new trail, in addition to serving as an environmental and fitness resource, will be highly educational, informing visitors about nearby historical icons and native peoples.

A section of the trail will incorporate the Sgt. Henry E. Plant Memorial Parkway, a scenic overlook that includes a plaque celebrating this Civil War Medal of Honor recipient. "The view of the Grand River and its flood plain is spectacular," says Morrison. Just north of the plaque lies a Native American educational terrace, complete with photos and artifacts of local tribes discovered during construction of the Sgt. Henry E. Plant parkway. Lastly, the trail will cross over the Crockery Creek Natural area, where trail visitors can hike and birdwatch.

Though seemingly three separate trails, when completed, these pathways will connect to form a web of trails nicknamed "the grand connection" by some. "This network will be a destination for tourists as well with beautiful views and lots of options allowing them to stay in one hotel and explore in all kinds of directions on various days," says Morrison.

So, stay tuned, West Michigan. There are still plenty of trail projects coming your way, with thousands of miles yet to explore.

This article was made possible by the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. For more information about the WMTGC, visit wmtrails.org.
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