The city of Jonesville will open construction bidding in January for the rail trail in order to complete the project sometime during the summer of 2016. The $400,000 project will be funded through a $296,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant and $104,000 in matched city funds.
The trail will begin at the intersection of state Route 99 and Gaige Street and go north 1.4 miles to an old bridge on the Saint Joe River, just north of U.S. Highway 12. The trail will be open to walking as well as non-motorized vehicles.
The city of Jonesville originally planned to have the project finished this summer, but after obtaining all the necessary state permits it was unable to get any construction bids.
Jonesville City Manager Jeffrey Gray said the city was disappointed about not getting any bids, but also said that the rest of the process should be easier now that they have all necessary permits.
“Permitting with any one department has its own requirements,” Gray said. “Fortunately for us, we have those permits behind us now, and so moving forward will be relatively straightforward at this point.”
Gray said although Jonesville plans to seek construction bids again in January, the project start date depends on when the snow begins to melt.
“Folks are anxious to get out there and use it,” said Tim McLean, assistant to the city manager.
Gray estimates that the construction project will take six to eight weeks to complete. In that time, construction crews will remove remaining railroad ties, level the path back to its original train bed, lay asphalt, and put down benches.
With $15,000 in promised funds from the Jonesville Rotary Club, the city plans to put in a pavilion and picnic benches at the trailhead behind the office of the Jonesville Police Department. The city will receive the rotary club funds when the pavilion is completed, and the pavilion project currently does not have a start date.
“At the rotary club we usually make large commitments back to the community because the community has supported us so well,” said Don Germann, president of the Jonesville Rotary Club. “The Jonesville rail trail is our biggest commitment in the past few years.”
Jonesville has been working to purchase the discontinued railroads from the Michigan Department of Transportation since 2007. In 2012, Jonesville purchased the lines owned by MDOT with the help of a state grant. Even though the first phase of the path hasn’t been built, the city is already working wwith the Hillsdale County’s Headwaters Recreation Authority to find the most feasible path for the second stage of the project.
“We’ve tried to seize the opportunity we have in front of us, and then we’ll evaluate what else to do in the future,” Gray said.
Jonesville is just one in a growing number of communities in Michigan transforming discontinued railroads into trails for biking and walking. Gray said many towns in Michigan are connected by abandoned, state-owned railroads and that these narrow tracts of land lend themselves well to becoming recreational trails.
“I think there absolutely is a trend going and it has been going on at the community level,” Gray said.