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Planned addition to Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail would require removal of thousands of young trees

Rebecca Williams
Michigan Public
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

A planned addition to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail would require the removal of over 7,200 native trees — mostly young trees and saplings — according to an independent analysis by Borealis Consulting.

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail spans about 20 scenic miles through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The new planned segment — called Segment 9 or the Pathway to Good Harbor — would transect sensitive dune habitat that is state-protected.

According to the analysis, tree species that would be removed during construction include American beech, sugar maple, white pine, red oak, ironwood, and Eastern hemlock.

But Segment 9 would add more non-motorized trail along the lakeshore, which supporters say is important for recreation and accessibility to the lakeshore.

Julie Clark is the CEO of Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails Inc., or TART, one of the groups that proposed the Pathway to Good Harbor.

"The end result I think will be something that we've seen around the rest of the trail, which is a trail that is well-loved, well-used, and is helping change how we think about access to those important destinations along the lakeshore," said Clark.

Clark said also that the segment is the result of years of planning and extensive input from the community.

The planned segment of trail would stretch from Bohemian Road to the Good Harbor Trailhead.
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
Michigan Public
The planned segment of trail (red line) would stretch from Bohemian Road to the Good Harbor Trailhead.

The Little Traverse Lake Association is a group of property owners on Little Traverse Lake, which Segment 9 will be built along. Jerry Leanderson, president of the association, said in a statement that many property owners believe Segment 9 would reduce bike traffic on Traverse Lake Road and improve safety for all, while others believe that the construction would cause environmental damage to trees, wetlands, and protected sand dunes. He noted also that "the planners of the Trail have pledged to avoid as many trees as possible."

The analysis by Borealis Consulting also identified ecosystems along the proposed trail that are protected under state or federal regulations, including a vulnerable wooded dune and swale complex and a state protected critical dune area.

Doug Verellen is a resident of Little Traverse Lake.

“I’m a big trail user and supporter of TART. But spending $12 million dollars for bulldozing another four miles through a unique and sensitive wilderness area is not warranted, especially when there are options to access Good Harbor Bay without this assault on nature.  It’s time to sharpen our vision and create something better for the times we live in,” Verellen said in a statement.

Julie Clark said construction on Segment 9 is expected to move forward if the National Park Service obtains permits from the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Beth Weiler is a newsroom intern covering the environment.
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