By Jim Newell
Orion Township is a section closer to connecting the Paint Creek and Polly Ann trails with the completion of another portion of the Clarkston Road safety path.
On Monday, township officials, members of the safety path committee and residents celebrated the completion of a second section of the safety path that reaches the Polly Ann Trail near Rhodes Road and continues on to Joslyn Road.
The first phase of the safety path – the combination of an elevated wooden boardwalk and concrete pathway – running from M-24 to just west of Camp Agawam – was finished last year.
“This is a connection that has been talked about since the Polly Ann Trail was established. There’s always been talk of connecting the trails,” said Orion Twp. Supervisor Chris Barnett. “As soon as we get one section done, we’re working on the next.”
The township received a Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) Trust Fund Grant to help finance the project, Barnett said, and has applied for another grant to help finish the path east of M-24 to connect to the Paint Creek Trail system.
That connection would begin on East Clarkston Road and connect to Kern Road. The plan also includes a pedestrian/bike bridge over Paint Creek in the old Rudds Mill area.
“The fun part is we’re actually building a bridge over the creek where ‘The Rocks’ were,” Barnett said. “The engineers said that was the best place to cross the creek.”
In addition to the DNR grant, Orion Twp. uses safety path funds and some of its host fees from the Eagle Valley landfill to pay for the project, Barnett said.
“The goal would be that next year we would have that done, so there will be a safe pedestrian route if you’re biking from downtown Rochester to Leonard,” Barnett said. “There will be lots of wayfinding signage – and obviously the Polly Ann Trail has done a great job with their signs – but there will be signs on the Paint Creek Trail telling people where to go.”
Polly Ann Trail Manager Linda Moran said she has been waiting a long time for the trails to connect.
“It’s been a long process and I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for this. I think it’s absolutely fabulous,” she said. “The Paint Creek Trail has always been like the gold standard of trails and the Polly Ann Trail has always been kind of the little sister. So, now we’re connected and we’re hoping to bring them together and be sister trails.
“I just think it’s wonderful, wonderful that we’re doing this, and it makes the communities more accessible – people can bike, people can walk,” Moran said.
By connecting the Paint Creek with the Polly Ann trails, the township will be able to have the trail system through Orion included as part of the Iron Belle Trail, which links Ironwood at the western edge of the Upper Peninsula with Belle Isle on the Detroit River.
“Right now, we are part of the Iron Belle. There’s a little finessing we have to do as far as where the trail goes from here – is it going to go north, is it going to go south and east, is it going to go west? We’re working that out, so it’s in flux right now but we’ll have that worked out shortly,” Moran said.
The Polly Ann Trail also connects with the Clinton River Trail.
“So, you can go anywhere. Camp Agawam has overnight accommodations available, so people can do multi-day events out here,” Moran said.
Paint Creek Trail Manager Melissa Ford and Moran also have discussed doing joint trail events in the future.
“Hopefully next summer the Paint Creek and Polly Ann trails will do some joint events, where we might start in Rochester and end up in Leonard – so, some pretty long events – marathons, epic bike rides, a lot of good things,” Moran said.
Last year, the Village of Lake Orion and Downtown Development Authority completed an extension of the Paint Creek Trail into Lake Orion, adding that spur as a destination along the trail systems.
“So, people can right into the Village of Lake Orion and have dinner, go up to Oxford and have coffee – they can do all kinds of good things,” Moran said.