It’s hardly a secret that quality of life is inextricably tied to health and wellness, including having easy access to outlets for outdoor physical activity. Oakland County understands that – after all, that knowledge is at the very heart of the Brooksie Way – but in addition to simple acknowledging it, Oakland County makes great efforts to be able to offer residents of its many communities safe and free options to encourage health, wellness, and an overall greater quality of life.
The Oakland County Economic Development & Community Affairs department recently released the sixth edition of their Oak Routes map, a highly detailed guide to all of the many interconnected trail systems throughout Oakland County. (Pick one up at the Oakland County One Stop Shop or download it here for free.) The map highlights all of the rail-to-trail projects, in which abandoned rail lines are converted into hiking and biking paths, as well as all the local connections through the sidewalk systems and park trails in the local, county and state parks found throughout the county.
The map also details the different activities allowed on each of the trails, from cross-country skiing to horseback riding (Oakland County has the highest number of horses per capita in the state), and even highlights water trails, key parks and all the great downtowns within easy access of the trail systems. “It’s just a great piece to get people aware that these trails are right in their backyards,” says Kristen Wiltfang, Associate Planner for Oakland County’s Planning & Economic Development division.
Wiltfang explains that trail planning is nothing new for Oakland County. In fact, trail planning has been taking place for over 30 years now. The Paint Creek Trail was the first rail trail in Michigan. (Michigan actually has the highest number of rail-to-trail mileage in the country.)
Planners work with local municipalities, local trail groups, watershed councils, land and lake conservancies, equestrians, hikers, bikers, and anyone else interested in being part of the dialogue. “We really try to pull everyone together,” she says. “How do we connect these downtowns and neighborhoods and create this cross-county cooperation? We really do try to coordinate those efforts; working with the road commission … also working with communities and asking, ‘Where do we need sidewalks, crossings, bike lanes, extended shoulders, shared lane markings?’”
In 2008 a trail master plan was created; now continued efforts are being made to follow up on the trails that were identified. One current area of focus is in the communities of Commerce Twp., Wixom and Walled Lake, which collectively have the last section of rail trail gap (a dinner train used to operate on the rails up until a few years ago; now the rails are no longer used). The county is also working with MDOT to create a pedestrian bridge over the very busy M5 highway. In Addison Twp., they are working with the village of Leonard to save the historic Leonard Mill and convert it to a trailhead.
In the southern portion of the county where there are no rail lines to convert (think Royal Oak, Ferndale and Berkley), the county is working with utility owners to open access along the utility corridors, which are the only intact off-road connections in some areas. Trail connections would be mapped through neighborhoods and downtowns, keeping off main roads but also still accessing points of interest like farmers’ markets and grocery stores. “It’s all about getting people out, active, and living a healthy lifestyle,” Wiltfang notes.
One of the county’s largest current undertakings is happening in downtown Pontiac. Some believe that the Woodward Loop has effectively pulled all traffic away from the once-bustling downtown. Planners want to create a sense of place in downtown Pontiac and make the connection with the Clinton River Trail through the downtown. With the help of the Tiger Grant, the county is working with the city to improve the transportation network for both motorists and non-motorized traffic in order to tie the neighborhoods together again. Efforts would include transitioning the Loop to two-way traffic and include bike lanes, close the gap to the Clinton River trail, and look into rapid bus transit. “Multi-modal connections through the downtown area is a big component,” says Wiltfang.
Another project is the Look & Feel project on the Clinton River Trail, a series of interpretative and way-finding signs and confidence markers throughout the downtown to let people know they’re still on the trail. Interpretive signs will tie in the history of the area with the railroads, the automotive industry and the River, all very important modes of transportation at the turn of the last century and beyond. Ultimately, the city and county hope that these efforts will spur economic development and tourism in the area.
Whether you’re an avid biker or just enjoy the casual stroll, Oak Routes offer endless opportunities for outdoor activity for you and your family to get healthy and happy!
The Oak Routes project was made possible by the support of the following Trail Blazers: ITC Holdings and Oakland County Parks and Recreation. Additional map sponsors include: Milford Downtown Development Authority, Novi Parks Foundation, Michigan Horse Council, Highland Equestrian Conservancy, and the City of Wixom.