Cutting the ribbon with a pair of giant wooden scissors was the last step in the grand opening of the Rail Trail in Jonesville after four long years of preparation.
The $400,000, 1.4 mile paved trail begins at the intersection of state Route 99 and Gaige Street, heads north, and ends at an old bridge over the St. Joseph River. The Rail Trail was built as part of an initiative by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to encourage active lifestyles and an appreciation of nature.
The Hillsdale County Headwaters Recreation Authority has planned the construction of numerous trails across Fayette and Hillsdale Township in order to connect them without utilizing dangerous highways.
The idea for the Rail Trail began under Jonesville’s past village manager Adam Smith in 2012. Smith had already purchased the discontinued railroad property from the Michigan Department of Transportation, assisted by a state grant.
Smith, aided by the Spicer Group, an engineering and architecture firm based out of Saginaw, applied and received for a natural resource trust fund grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources which covered construction costs.
“We received a 26 percent match for total construction costs funding $296,000,” said Jonesville city manager Jeff Gray. “Our local match was $104,000, in addition to the Jonesville Rotary Club’s $12,000, which was funded through the Hillsdale County Community Foundation’s ‘love your community’ grant. This grant funded the installment of a pavilion, some park benches, trash receptacles, and a map sign. Don and Donna Playford also generously donated to the trail.”
Both the excavating and architecture firms that won the construction bids were Michigan-based companies. Construction for the Rail Trail was completed by Parrish Excavating based out of Quincy, Michigan.
“It was a competitive bidding process,” Gray said. “But we were happy that local business won them. They did an outstanding job on the project.”
Tanya Moore, the landscape specialist assigned to the Rail Trail, did everything from writing the grant to designing the path.
“It was a long process. I requested the grant in April 2013, which was accepted in December of 2013. We began trail construction early 2014 when weather permitted,” said Moore. “The real challenge was the number of entities we were working with, from MDOT to MDOT Railroad, to the city utilities office. We were all anxious to finish this trail, and we worked together to make it a reality.”
Gray believes the new trail will strengthen the community, and is grateful for aid from Michigan’s federal resources.
Local resident Loretta Carpenter regularly walks her dog, Buddy, on the Rail Trail. Mrs. Carpenter explained why she supports public funding for trails such as this.
“The trail was built to preserve nature and to encourage exercise,” said Carpenter. “In today’s culture, it is often hard to escape the business of everyday life because we are constantly connected and communicating through social media and texting. But projects like this encourage solitude with nature. The Rail Trail is a reminder to live in the moment.”
The ten foot-wide Rail Trail was designed as a paved trail so that it would be accessible to more people.
“Part of the natural resource trust fund grant is to meet universal design standards so that users of all abilities are able to use the path,” Gray said. “Keeping grades flat and paved assures that more people are able to experience the trail.”
The Hillsdale County Headwaters Recreation Authority, formed to explore recreational opportunities, is composed of Jonesville, Fayette Township, Hillsdale, and Hillsdale Township. This group is working on more scenic pathways meant to connect the cities from within. The Rail Trail was only the first phase. The next phase plans to go outside of the city limits and connect these communities to each other.