Connector will provide “safe passage” between 2 Washtenaw County mountain bike loops

UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that the Connection Trail would open on May 31. Due to required permits, the estimated opening date for bikes will now likely be in June, officials said. The story has been updated.

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – Two of Washtenaw County’s most popular trail systems for mountain biking will soon be united by a now mostly bike-free off-road connector, bringing together more than 40 miles of trails for cyclists.

A section of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, a roughly 35-mile stretch of hiking in the state’s two recreation areas for which it is named, will be open to bikes, likely in June, Department of Resources officials say. Michigan naturals.

The new connector route connects approximately four miles of the trail, a little-used gravel road, a short section of Park Lyndon, and Washtenaw County’s Border-to-Border Trail to effectively create a bridge that mountain bikers can use to cross the Potawatomi trail. in the Pinckney Recreation Area and the DTE Energy Foundation Trail System.

Park officials did not take the decision to open parts of the hiking trail to cyclists lightly, Pinckney Recreation Area Park Superintendent Charles Dennison said.

The Potawatomi Mountain Biking Association, whose hundreds of members help maintain the region’s trails, proposed a connector two years ago, he said.

Since the development of the DTE Trail system from 2015 – several loops of singletrack open most of the year to foot traffic but optimized for mountain bikers – a subset of cyclists have sought a way to get around on two wheels between the trails north of Chelsea and the 18-mile Potawatomi Loop, according to Jason Aric Jones, association board member and director of the DTE Trail.

“We just wanted to provide a safe passage for people to get there,” he said, referring to the danger posed by cycling on the northern territorial road and other roads that currently connect the two areas. .

After carefully considering the matter, park officials have landed on the proposed route which is expected to go into effect in June.

It heads southwest from a section of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail already open to cyclists in Pinckney Recreation Area, before reaching Embury Road, which cyclists will ride for a short section before crossing North Territorial Road and use a half mile section of trail in Washtenaw County’s Park Lyndon before joining the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail.

The county’s Border-to-Border Trail offers the key final connector at the M-52 trailhead of the DTE Trail, or paved road south of Chelsea. The connector totals about seven miles.

A map from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission shows a connecting route between the DTE Energy Foundation trail system near Chelsea and the Potawatomi Trail in the Recreation Area of Pinckney, accessible to cyclists, likely with an opening date of June 2022.Provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“It opens up all of this connectivity of trail systems that is very important to us,” Dennison said. Even though Waterloo Recreation Area is the largest state park on the Lower Peninsula and Pinckney totals 11,000 acres, park officials want to avoid the need for new trails.

“The last thing we want to do is increase our trail density and create additional trails on undeveloped properties in this park,” Dennison said.

Jones predicts that bicycle traffic on the new connector will be “pretty light.” Why? Riding the two existing trail systems and back would be a long day in the saddle, and it won’t be for everyone, he said.

The route will be signed and the association and state park officials have worked with the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, which operates Lyndon Park, to ensure riders are aware that the large majority of this park remains closed to mountain bikers.

Much of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail remains for hiking and riding, and Jones said the mountain biking community has no desire to change that.

The four-mile stretch that will open up to cyclists is a “straight section of trail with good sightlines,” he said, pointing to a 30-year history of cyclist-hiker interaction on the Potawatomi Trail, also commonly used for trail running and cross country skiing.

Dennison is careful to designate the loop not as a mountain bike trail, but as a shared-use system. As with any track, there’s always the possibility of conflict, but that hasn’t been a problem for Dennison over his nearly 26-year career.

“There’s not a long list of physical incidents and injuries between bikers and foot traffic,” Jones said.

The decision worked its way up through the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division, gaining approval from its director, as well as wildlife officials, Dennison said. Park staff will monitor usage when the connector is operational to track how many people end up using it.

The trail remains primarily a hiking route, according to the park manager.

“We’re not going to change the character of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail as you see it today,” Dennison said.

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