EAST SIDE — Chicago bicyclists may be able to take a paved, dedicated trail all the way to Michigan in the next several years as their regional neighbors work to secure the final funding needed to finish the project.
The 58-mile Marquette Greenway will use existing trails and new construction to connect Chicago’s Southeast Side with downtown New Buffalo, Michigan.
Plans for the trail, which are part of a project to redevelop formerly industrial land along the Indiana lakefront, date back to 2003.
The small portion in Illinois, from Calumet Park to the Indiana border, is already built — as are 22 miles of trail along the route in Indiana.
Another 32 miles are mapped out and funded by a $17.8 million federal grant issued last year and $5.2 million from the Indiana Dunes National Park and nine municipalities.
The final 4-mile stretch in Michigan still needs funding, and local supporters with the Friends of Berrien County Trails aim to raise a final $250,000 by the end of the year.
“It’s known that people from Chicago love to vacation in harbor country in southwest Michigan,” said Marcy Hamilton, deputy executive director for the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission.
“It’s very common for Southwest Michigan folks to take a day trip in Chicago. Being able to do it by bike would definitely be advantageous.”
The Marquette Greenway will be a dedicated trail for cyclists and pedestrians once completed. It’s paved and off-road, making it safer and more accessible for those who can’t or don’t want to share streets with cars, Hamilton said.
In between the trailheads lies the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, parks and botanical gardens in Michigan City and other tourist destinations, Hamilton said. The trail would also benefit cyclists who commute around the region, she said.
“The environmental, social and economic benefits are all there when you do trail projects for communities,” Hamilton said.
Fully funding the Michigan stretch is one of the last steps toward making the Marquette Greenway a reality, Hamilton said. Planners in Indiana are also finalizing routing and funding for a 1-mile stretch near Burns Harbor.
The link between Chicago, Indiana and Southwest Michigan is just the beginning, supporters said.
As the Marquette Greenway moves forward, other plans are underway to connect New Buffalo to South Haven by trail, Hamilton said. That connection would in turn link Chicago with Michigan’s Great Lake-to-Lake trail system.
Great Lake-to-Lake Route 1 — the first of five massive trails of its kind planned in Michigan — crosses the state’s Lower Peninsula. It starts in South Haven and heads east through Kalamazoo, Jackson and metro Detroit to Port Huron.
Cyclists could one day have a clear path from Chicago’s Southeast Side to Lake Huron as gaps in the existing trail infrastructure are filled.
“The long-term goal is to connect into all those systems,” Hamilton said.
To donate to the Michigan section of the Marquette Greenway, click here.
A fundraiser is 4-10 p.m. Thursday at Bentwood Tavern, 600 W. Water St. in New Buffalo, Michigan. Half the food and drink sales from the event will be donated to fund the Michigan section of the trail.
Reservations for the fundraiser are requested and can be made through the tavern’s website.
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