Help shape future of Michigan's trails

Two snowmobiles on a trail.

Jan. 18, 2013

Michigan's outdoor recreation resources are significant and diverse, including a collection of over 12,000 far-reaching miles of trails that are drawing a growing number of users, from off-road vehicle enthusiasts and snowmobilers to equestrians, hikers, bikers and cross-country skiers.

Now, as part of developing a broad plan to guide the growth and care of Michigan's motorized, non-motorized and water trails, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is turning to the state's trail users for help. Michigan's 6,400 miles of snowmobile trails are among the trail resources that make the state an all-season recreation destination. The Michigan Comprehensive Trails Plan aims to help position Michigan as the nation's Trails State. (Image on the right.)

Cross-country skiers take in the winter scenery.The DNR is asking the public to review the draft Michigan Comprehensive Trails Plan - available at - and give feedback on any aspect of the plan by completing the survey (available on the same Web page) by Jan. 25, 2013.

"Our goal is to make sure we receive a broad range of input from Michigan trail users to ensure our vast trail system is sustainable and relevant for the future," said DNR Parks and Recreation Division Chief Ron Olson.

"Michigan is home to a vast and varied trail system," Olson added. "Our goal is to provide a consistent, quality resource that best meets the needs of the steadily increasing number and variety of trail users."

Riders in Montmorency County enjoy the state's off-road vehicle (ORV) trail system.Fortunately, the DNR has an extensive network of partners who care deeply about and are invested in the future of Michigan's trail system and who, over the years, have helped make possible many trail-related acquisition and development projects.

The Michigan Snowmobile and Trails Advisory Council (MSTAC) is charged with the responsibility to review and recommend a trail plan for the state. The origin of this draft plan is Public Act 45 of 2010, which stated the DNR and MSTAC work together to establish such a plan for a statewide trail network.

The plan will result in guiding the DNR and the MSTAC toward establishing Michigan as the nation's Trail State. When finalized and implemented, this plan will create a trail system that:

  • Is sufficient in quantity and quality and takes into account the full spectrum of trail users;
  • Has sustainable funding resources for proper maintenance of existing trails, as well as for expansion to meet user and community needs;
  • Makes every home in the state a trailhead, because the network provides close-to-home opportunities for transportation, healthful exercise, recreation and an enhanced sense of place; and
  • Provides connections to parks, urban centers and cultural and conservation areas.

A group of people talking near off-road vehicles.Olson said that one of the plan's key aspects is recognizing that successful trail planning and implementation should be coordinated among all levels of government: local, regional and state. Additionally, the DNR and MSTAC seek to effectively integrate the development, maintenance and promotion of a statewide trail network through units of government, the private sector and nonprofit organizations.

Currently, Michigan's trail system includes:

  • 6,407 miles of snowmobile trails;
  • 3,627 miles of ORV trails;
  • 2,623 miles of rail-trails - the most in the nation;
  • 560 miles of forest looped trails;
  • 900 miles of state park trails; and
  • 590 miles of designated equestrian trails (including the 300-mile Shore to Shore Riding Trail).

Equestrian trail in Crawford County.In addition, Olson said that in June 2011 the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the first National Water Trail on Lake Michigan - a 75-mile stretch from Chicago, Illinois to New Buffalo, Mich. The goal is to work collaboratively to expand Michigan's water trail system, with the state's vast network of waterways.

The DNR is also at work on Michigan Heritage Water Trails, an initiative to connect communities using navigable waterways with the first designated trail - the River Country Heritage Water Trail in St. Joseph County.

"No matter where you want to go in Michigan, we want to give you a beautiful, scenic way to get there," Olson said. "Monitoring and evolving the state's trail system will also contribute to the state's tourism economy on a year-round basis."

Runners compete in a race on the Kal-Haven Trail, a former railroad bed.Michigan residents indicated in a March 2009 survey by Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (State of the State Survey 2022-51) that trails and parks were ranked sixth in importance in driving the state's economic recovery, behind only the auto industry, renewable energy, agriculture, tourism and attracting people from other states.

The draft Michigan Comprehensive Trail Plan can be found on the Web page for review and public comment.