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Designing the Best Trail Possible
As the story below indicates, the Bay To Bay Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is long over due. So is this newsletter. Our last newsletter was sent out mid-summer and then a month later MichiganTrailMaps.com had the relaunch of its newly designed web site. It’s been rough road since then, trying to work all the bugs out. We’re getting there and we think the new site and its vastly improved trail search capabilities are well worth all the headaches.
Please check out our new site and keep checking it as we can finally turn our attention back to uploading new trails and trail maps. Also please take the time to fill out the surveys below for what you’d like to see the new Bay To Bay Trail to feature. Your input is important because you’ll be the ones hoisting a backpack and hiking the trail once it’s completed.
Bay To Bay Trail: A Hike Across Sleeping Bear Dunes
By Jim DuFresne
Within the world of backpackers, a long distance trail through the only national park in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is long overdue.
Hang in there. It’s coming. And you can have a say in how it’s designed.
Thanks to the high vistas and open country created by the dunes, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore features the best day hiking south of the Mackinac Bridge through scenery that rivals anything you see north of the bridge. The national park unit stretches 72,000 acres between Frankfort and Leland and includes 35 miles of shoreline on the mainland and the largest dunes in Michigan.
Winding through such amazing scenery on its mainland portion are a dozen trails that total 60 miles. Despite the mileage and the unique backdrop, the park offers only two walk-in campgrounds on the mainland; — one along the Platte Plains Trail and one at the end of Valley View Trail, a 1.5-mile hike from M-22. Backcountry camping is not allowed along these or any other trails on the mainland.
What is missing from the park that was once voted the most beautiful place in the country on ABC’s Good Morning America, is a long-distance trail across it, offering backpackers a multi-day adventure through a variety of landscapes. At Isle Royale National Park, the 42-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail serves that purpose, in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore it’s the Lakeshore Trail stretching from Grand Marais to Munising. At Sleeping Bear Dunes it’s been little more than an idea that has been kicked around for more than a decade.
But the dream moved closer to reality last year when a steering team was appointed to develop this trail. The committee composed of members of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore staff, the National Park System Roads, Trails, and Conservation Assistance group, and the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources.
Tentatively named the Bay To Bay Trail, the route will traverse the length of the national lakeshore 35 miles from Old Indian Trail north of Frankfort to Good Harbor Bay, northeast of Glen Arbor. It will be a combination of existing trails, old two-tracks and newly constructed trail segments that will include such renowned natural features as Platte Bay, the Dune Climb, North Bar Lake and Pyramid Point while passing through the towns of Glen Arbor and Empire.
It will also be a backcountry recreational experience for but paddlers. Bay To Bay will feature a water trail for multi-day kayaking along the Lake Michigan shoreline. At night hikers and paddlers will share the same series of backcountry campgrounds located in remote areas of the park that are now hard to access.
The project took another leap forward this year when a team of five students from the U of M School of Natural Resources, working on their Masters Degree, spent the summer at Sleeping Bear Dunes. They evaluated a variety of potential campground sites, collected GIS data for possible hiking trail routes and searched out Lake Michigan access sites for possible kayak launch points and take-outs.
The team also prepared online surveys to collect user preferences that will aid planners with the design and placement of the final route. This is where you come in. Never have paddlers and hikers had a better opportunity to contribute input for a designated trail and water route they will use in the near future.
Two surveys were created, one for paddlers, the other for backpackers, and each contains approximately 20 questions that require 15 minutes or less to complete.
If you are a backpacker the survey can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SLBEB2B_bckpckr.
If you are a paddler then head online to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SLBEB2B_pddlr
Or if you enjoy both activities, fill out both surveys. Even better, encourage fellow backpackers and kayakers to take the survey throughout the winter months. Next year, collected data will play an important role in developing a variety of options for trail placement and campground design and location that will be included in the Environmental Assessment.
A completion date for this project is difficult to project. Environmental Assessments can take years and there is also a great deal of fundraising and grant writing that needs to be done. But the opportunity to voice an opinion is relatively short and should not be passed up by anybody who has dreamed about paddling or hiking across Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Along with two existing walk-in campgrounds and three drive-in facilities, the Bay To Bay trail would also feature a series of walk-in camping areas that would allow backpackers to hike the 30-mile route in two to three days. The new campgrounds would be located near the Lake Michigan shoreline so they could be utilized by kayakers the Bay To Bay Water Trail.
The proposed trail would stretch from Old Indian Trail to the east end of Good Harbor Bay.
To keep track of the progress of the Bay To Bay Trail or for more information go to the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes website.