Community leaders and Jonesville area residents pose during the Rail Trail ribbon cutting.  Larry Jose | Courtesy
Com­munity leaders and Jonesville area res­i­dents pose during the Rail Trail ribbon cutting. Larry Jose | Courtesy

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.