Interactive Website Guides Michigan's Outdoor Enthusiasts

The in-depth website is expected to increase northern Michigan's tourism by giving users access to trails, regardless of size, terrain, or who manages or owns the trail.

by Kate Hansen, McClatchy News Service / July 28, 2014

A new interactive website will provide outdoor enthusiasts a one-stop user’s guide to 5,300 miles of trails across Michigan's northern lower peninsula.

Regardless of the season, locals and tourists can match their desired outdoor activity — hiking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing — to any number of trails in a 21-county region in northern Michigan.

Matt McCauley, director of regional planning and community development for the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, said it took years of planning to pull together the comprehensive list of trails. The Northeast and Northwest Councils of Government collaborated to identify all trails, including information on their location, length, points of interest, photos of trailheads, and even weather updates for each area.

“The enormity of the trail systems in our region made this challenging from a technical aspect,” McCauley said. “I think there is a model now that other regions, other parts of the state can use.”

He hopes the site will help put Michigan on the map as the leading “trail state.”

The in-depth website gives users access to trails in the region, regardless of size, terrain, or who manages or owns the trail. Julie Clark, executive director of the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails, or TART, expects the website will not only help outdoor adventurists enjoy the natural beauty of northern Michigan, but also increase area tourism.

“The biggest strength of this site is its marketing potential,” she said. “It will offer a quick jump-off point for the amenities near the trails in all 21 counties, from Alpena to Ludington. This is a site that will be used by a greater population than we can reach."

McCauley said that the website is evolving and he welcomed feedback from trail users.

“We know there are more trails that are not yet on our site,” he said. “We are looking for help from our users to identify trails that aren’t there yet. This is certainly not it; there is plenty more to do.”

He said the website will continue to grow to cover trip planning features, feedback from trail users, ratings of trails, and local business information such as lodging, restaurants, and other points of interest along each trail.

"We want to bring more attention to the assets we have in this region," McCauley said. "We hope that people visiting the area will want to stay here longer."

Visitors can access the trail systems at www.upnorthtrails.org.

©2014 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)