New TART Trails to be cultivated for walks, bikes

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Two inches.

It’s the magic number that gets Dave Fisher to start up his truck and rig up his plow to clear snow from several miles of the Traverse Area Recreational and Transportation Trails in Leelanau County.

The 61-year-old retiree heads out day or night, weekday or weekend to keep the trails accessible for local walkers, runners and bicyclists.

A new section, from Cherry Bend Road to the DeYoung Natural Area on the northern shore of Cedar Lake, joins his plowing docket this year as TART Trails expands foot traffic routes.

“I try to stay on it so we can be as close to pavement as possible,” said Fisher, who also works part-time clearing Traverse City’s sidewalks. “I’ve always been a person who volunteers and helps out if someone needs a hand. It’s always been my nature.”

The new walking section comes after a year of surveying trail users, said TART Trails Planning and Management Director Chris Kushman.

“It was clear from feedback — and use — that folks were walking it,” he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “So this year we’re trying an experiment.”

“People are always walking their dogs on that portion,” added Fisher, who lives near the trail and occasionally takes his own pup, a red Labrador named Penny, onto it for a stroll.

The stretch used to be reserved and groomed for cross country skiing, Kushman said. Trails north of DeYoung — about 12 miles worth — remain open for cross country and snow-ski use.

TART Trails are cleared for walkers, bicyclists and runners from the Bunker Hill area in Acme Township through Traverse City and, now, up to DeYoung. The cleared trails ended at Cherry Bend before that. A portion of the adjoining Boardman Lake Trail is also cleared in the winter, making for 14 miles of snow-free walking.

The rest of TART Trails’ miles get plowed around 30 times per season. Fisher says his stretch takes about 30 or 40 minutes. He’s already been out a few times this winter.

Vigilance is necessary — regular plowing keeps snow from being packed into ice. TART Trail volunteers avoid using salt on the trails to mitigate environmental impact and maintain the trail’s integrity, Kushman said.

Traverse City workers maintain trails through city limits in the winter, and stretches in East Bay and Acme townships are contracted out. That leaves just Leelanau County trails to volunteers like Fisher.

Fisher discovered the trails in 2012 after retiring and relocating to Traverse City from Lansing. Plowing began the same year, and Fisher happily volunteered.

“We wanted to open up the trails so people — and the city — could see the amount of use they got because of it,” he said.

He does most of the plowing, and several other volunteers join him for regular trail maintenance, like clearing branches. A few other volunteers groom cross country sections.

It’s important work.

“It’s more than people using the trails for recreation — it’s an important means of transportation in the wintertime as well,” Kushman said. “Some people rely on that east-west route.”

Tom Auer, a longtime volunteer who works the Boardman Lake section of the trail, agrees. He gets out a couple times a week for minor maintenance, snow shoveling and bridge clearing.

“I make sure everybody gets a ‘hello,'” said Auer, a retired physician. “And the fun thing to do is watch nature on the trail.”

City workers help clear some of the trails, but Auer is in charge of maintaining the lake loop’s bridges and boardwalks.

Auer encourages others to get involved — with TART Trails and volunteering in general within their communities.

“There’s a lot of nameless people who pick up cans and trash as they walk. It’s a gift to the community,” he said. “You get more out of it the more you put in.”

Fisher agrees — it’s what keeps him going, and volunteering, year after year.

“I really enjoy seeing people using it — it makes my efforts feel well worth it,” he said. “The biggest part is to give back. It makes you feel good inside.”