History – Top of Michigan Trails Council

From Concept to Reality

Beginning in early 1994 and into the spring of 1995 Horace “Huffy” Huffman and Tom Bailey (both of the Little Traverse Conservancy) discussed between themselves, and later with other like minded individuals, the concept and need for a vehicle to coordinate and bring together numerous trail user groups in Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan counties. Huffman and Bailey recognized a lack of overall coordination, direction and planning of recreational trail activity in Northern Lower Michigan to meet the demands of an expanding population and the rapid growth of tourism to the area.

To read a full history of involved organizations and people, visit this document.


The Early Trail System

Prior to the advent of TOMTC, The Little Traverse Wheelway Committee, an offshoot of the Little Traverse Kiwanis Club, lead by Fred Fettis and Max Putters, had been working since 1976 to re-establish the trail around Little Traverse Bay that existed prior to the turn of the Century (1890-1910) and linked Petoskey with Harbor Springs. The Char-Em Trail Committee (on which Fettis, Brad Leech and Dr. Dwayne Griffin served) was similarly working to get a recreational trail from Petoskey to Charlevoix. The Fettis-Putters group had been successful in getting the trail eastward from Charlevoix Avenue (US 31 S) west of Northern Michigan Hospital along the shore to Magnus Park and through Bay Front Park ending on the salmon colored (pink) sidewalk through Bay View to Division Street.

The Char-Em Committee had been working with the various property associations and landowners to obtain easements for the western end of the trail but with limited success. It did make an important break-thru in dealings with State Representative, Pat Gagliardi and State Senator, Mitch Irwin, by obtaining a commitment of $500,000 toward the construction of such a trail to Charlevoix if and when ROW easements were obtained. This led in part to the 5.5-mile trail adjacent to what is now Bay Harbor.

In 1991, Fred Fettis had begun to get the Harbor Springs Kiwanis Club interested in forming a trail committee to work on getting the trail from Harbor Springs towards Bay View to connect with the trail that ended in Bay View at Division Street. Ray Kuczwara, a Harbor Springs Kiwanian, enticed Neal McCue to join him and Ceci Bauer in their efforts to establish a Harbor Springs Trailway Committee. Fettis and Putters began meeting with them and a few others on a plan to get a 1.5-mile trail paralleling M-119 from Beach Road past the Petoskey State Park and ending at the railroad crossing at what is now Spring Lake Park. The reason for selecting this particular segment for starting the linkage between Petoskey and Harbor Springs was to take advantage of an MDOT road project to widen and straighten M-119 in this area.

In discussions with MDOT and the Emmet County Road Commission, they were amenable to doing this providing the local group raised the $28,000 local match money for an ISTEA grant. This was not only raised but exceeded by about $5,000. This fund-raising was aided considerably by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation which acted as a well recognized and tax-exempt recipient for all of the donations. The Community Foundation’s Executive, Maureen Nicholson, acted as “banker”, bill payer and mailed out thank you letters on behalf of the Trailway Committee. The excess match money ultimately ended up in TOMTC’s coffers at a time when it was sorely needed. The Emmet County Road Commission acted as grant applicant and grant administrator for the trail portion of the project.


Connecting Northern Michigan by Trail

All of this early trail system commentary is included to set the stage for TOMTC’s entry on the scene for establishing and coordinating a regional trail system. The Trails Council’s network currently is made up of over 300 miles of trails, stretching from Charlevoix to Alpena, from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. This network is continually growing, thanks to the advocacy of the Trails Council and its partners. Our goal is to make Northern Michigan a destination for trail users from far and wide. We make trails happen!