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Lawmaker argues Northern Michigan bike trail route will hurt farmers

Aaron Selbig
Interlochen Public Radio
The TART Trail winds its way through downtown Traverse City.

A group in northern Michigan has been working for more than a decade to connect a bike trail between Suttons Bay and Harbor Springs.

But now, one legislator says the proposed path could harm the agriculture industry.

Representative Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, says local farmers have concerns about security and safety along the route.

If it’s ever completed, the Traverse Area Recreational Trail would connect existing trails from Suttons Bay all the way up to Petoskey and Harbor Springs.

Earlier this month, Rep. Cole took a road trip along the proposed route. Cole says farmers in the area told him they’re worried about a paved bike path running alongside their orchards.

Credit Courtesy of Rep. Cole
Rep. Triston Cole [left] and Rep. Tom Barrett [right] listen to Kewadin farmer Nels Veliquette discuss the path of a proposed bike trail.

“If someone is traveling along there and decides that the cherries look really nice and they should taste one, or the apples look really good and they should pick some of those, which honestly, that’s private property and that would be trespassing and stealing,” he says.

Cole says the route may be bad for trail users, too – especially when farmers are spraying chemicals on their crops.

“You’ve got products that protect from mold and mildews. You’ve got weed control products. You’ve got insect control products. You’ve got a lot of different things,” says Cole.

A long road

On a recent day at the Elk Rapids Government Center, a group of trail planners is holding the latest in a long series of meetings.

The group is made up of government officials, representatives from TART Trails, Incorporated, and concerned citizens.

Antrim County Commissioner Ed Boettcher has been working on this for seven years.

“It’s government,” he says. “Nothing happens fast.”

After years of discussion, the group still doesn’t have a preliminary design of the trail. And Boettcher says that makes Cole’s complaints premature.

“We want to get to the preliminary design. We want to raise some money, and then if there are specific concerns, which we’ve heard concerns, we want to deal with concerns because this has to work for everybody,” says Boettcher.

The trail planners say they have been working with local farmers.

Caroline Kennedy is assistant village manager in Elk Rapids. She says some of the issues raised by Cole – like chemical spraying and people stealing fruit – are legitimate concerns.

But they’re also solvable.

“This is not a new concept, where there are trails in agricultural areas,” says Kennedy. “So there is the ability to mark for that and to account for that.”

These planners believe in the long-term vision of a trail connecting Traverse City and Petoskey. They say it’s a benefit to public health and it attracts tourists.

Triston Cole doesn’t want to scrap the bike trail entirely – he wants the trail re-routed further inland.

He says following along U.S. 31 is just a bad location.

“That is an extremely busy highway,” says Cole. “I can’t imagine having a multitude of cyclists and people jogging along there mixed in with farm equipment, all trying to cross 31 during July, for example.”

Trail planner Ed Boettcher doesn’t necessarily disagree. He says it’d be a better biking experience to go through the woods.

“That’s everybody’s utopia, but unless we can find 150 property owners that all want to give us access to their property, or an agricultural community that wants to let us carve a path through their cherry orchard, we have limitations,” he says.

Boettcher says his goal seven years ago was to see this trail built before he dies.

And now, he’s starting to think that might actually happen.

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