INTRO: Michigan is a great outdoors state. It also ranks #9 in the country in obesity. That’s according to U.S. News and World report. A network of hikers and bikers has an answer. Connect trails between Lakes Michigan and Huron, improve your health and the economy. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus went on a trail.
A year ago, Governor Rick Snyder began talking about a 900 mile recreation trail from Belle Isle to the western U.P. The only known person to hike it was Chris Hillier.
“It all started with the Appalachian Trail. I did that after my mom passed away. I felt I had to restart and reset. I hiked that trail and loved it.”
A few days ago, Chris Hillier hiked the Macomb Orchard Trail near Richmond. His hiking poles clicked on the pavement.
“I worked for 18 years in the cardiac cath lab as a technologist. I saw all sorts of horrible disease… a lot of it from sedentary lifestyle. I think our bodies were designed to walk. We’re bipedal primates. Designed to move forward. You gotta do that at least a little bit.”
Hillier is now the first to walk the Lake To Lake Trail. He finished in Port Huron and started in South Haven where Gary Horton showed him the trail leading from the beach.
“I ride about 15-20 miles a day four or five days a week.”
Horton is a retired advertising executive trying to promote South Haven to Port Huron.
“It’s a great place around South Haven to ride a bike. We have plenty of trails, certainly the Kal-Haven trail that goes to Kalamazoo. That’s a 37 mile ride. And then the town is filled with bike trails. There will be more next year because they’re putting in one to the state park this year during the winter so it will be ready to go next spring.”
Horton has joined dozens of small city people who want the Department of Natural Resources to connect cross-state trails. Michigan might get more tourism dollars if the trails were all natural… mixed in with fish and wildlife. Right now, South Haven to Port Huron is only 60% complete. You still have to navigate streets and highways.
“I would prefer the trails personally.”
Chris Bowman rode his bike on the same route from South Haven. With the plan to catch Chris Hillier at the end.
“I have tried to avoid high traffic areas even if they suggest on their map that I go that way. It’s just too dangerous. So what I will do is take a farm road even if it has no shoulder it has less traffic.”
Chris Bowman is 37 now. He was lucky to make it past two. He was born with amniotic band syndrome. One leg was a stump. 3 fingers were gone. And he had a clef palate. Doctors said put him in an institution but his mom said I’ll take him home.
“It’s 90% mental on a bike. I was raised if I wanted something I went and got it. Nobody brought it to me just because I was missing a leg. If I want a glass of milk or a cookie I don’t just sit on the couch with my leg off or even on and say give me a glass of milk please. My mom will say: you go get it.”
Bowman rode across the state because of the peace and quiet. He also wants to be a model for other handicapped people: those born different or amputee war veterans.
“Especially if someone has lost a limb that they had and used they will think it’s black and white. I had it and I used to do this. I don’t have it so I can’t do it anymore. That’s not really true. You find ways to adapt.”
Back on the east side of the state, Chris Hillier the hiker waited for Chris Bowman to catch up to him on the trail. He explained his kind of adaption.
“To get away from cell phones and televisions and looking at the world through boxes whether it’s your car windshield or the box that’s on your smart phone or the box that we call our tv. I’ve had enough of it. So I like to come out here for weeks even months at a time and get away from that. It helps me to reset. There’s something about this lifestyle of hiking all day and sleeping all night, the minimalist lifestyle having just what you need to survive on your back that appeals to me.”
“Henry David Thoreau?” I asked.
“A little bit. Especially when he said ‘be mindful of each step.’ That’s a powerful quote to me: ‘be mindful of each step’ and I try to remember that.”
Personal reasons for hitting the trail are different. But Chris Hillier says:
“In the grand scheme of things if you want financing for trails then you better be a united front. You better be hikers and bicyclists and even equestrians and snow machines all have to come together and let the government know that we want trails. We want to connect to open green spaces and that’s where the money should go.”
Each town has its own geography and a trail makes it prettier, more useful or more of a tourist attraction. Nancy Krupiarz is director of the Michigan Trails & Green Alliance. She’s pushing state and federal agencies to fund the Lake to Lake Trails.
“The reason they got their trails to begin with is maybe it links up a park to a community or goes along a river. By connecting all these various individual trails there are 21 more communities that get a trail through there jurisdiction. So there’s a lot of reasons for people to come out and use these individual trails along this 250 mile route.”
For more about trails go to michigantrails.org