The First Ten Years Plus 1994 - 2009
By Neal McCue, Past President (second from left with Past President Steve Barney, Past President Jerry Corley, and Board Member Jim Conboy)
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.
Huffman and Bailey already had pretty well established in their minds in rough form what the mission of the yet to be created organization should be. Various drafts were considered, reworked and finally set forth:
“ The Mission of the….(organization)…. is to facilitate the establishment of a multi-use, year ‘round, safe recreational trail system in Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties.”
This mission statement has been amended three times; once to include the term “advocate” and twice to add other counties to its service area which has grown to eight counties - the initial three plus Presque Isle, Alpena, Otsego, Antrim and Montmorency..
Key People In The Early Years
Horace “Huffy” Huffman, John McCoy, Neal McCue
Tom Bailey, Al Olofsson, Bill Prall
John Tanton, M.D., Wes Hovey, Phil Wells
Dave Irish, Sebron “Boo” Litzenburger, Mike Eberline
Max Naas, Brad Leach, Carlin Smith
Jim Offield , Fred Fettis, Peter Fitzsimons
Dale Doehrman , Max Putters, Andy Hayes
Bob Horner, Roy Kuczawara
Interested Organizations In The Early Years
- Little Traverse Conservancy
- U S Inc.
- Kennedy Foundation
- Burns Clinic Foundation
- Offield Family Foundation
- Northern Michigan Hospital Foundation
- Olofsson Foundation
- Rails-to-Trails - Michigan
- Frey Foundation
- Harbor Springs Chamber of Commerce
- Tip of the Mitt Snowmobile Council
- Petoskey Chamber of Commerce
- Little Traverse Kiwanis Club
- Harbor Springs Kiwanis Club
- Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Foundation
- Charlevoix Community Foundation
- Boyne Country Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR)
- Michigan Natural Resources Commission and Land Trust Fund
- Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)
- Emmet County Road Commission
- Michigan Horse Council
- North Country Trail
- Local bicycle riding groups/clubs
- Numerous local units of government
Initial Conceptual Approach
“Huffy” Huffman, the retired Chairman of Huffy Corporation, Dayton, Ohio, had been involved in a successful “Miami Valley Regional Bicycle Council” which conducts a “Thunder Road Bike-a-Thon” and raises about $300,000 annually to support local trail development, cycling projects and health care charities. He and Bailey felt this “model” could be used to create the organizational vehicle and funding needed to provide a centralized entity for planning, coordinating and speeding up development of a regional recreational trail network in the three county area.
As the concept was discussed with interested parties and potential funding sources, it became apparent this model was not likely to succeed in Northern Michigan, at least to the extent experienced in Dayton, Ohio, mainly because of population and geographic considerations.
The Dayton approach was reworked and reviewed with the various parties already involved. Out of this grew the “Tri-County Bikeway Committee” (Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan). An Organizational Chart, Bylaws, Budget and likely staffing was roughed out and presented to several potential “partners.”
U S Inc., a local “incubator” for rising non-profits headed up by John Tanton, M.D., became very interested in the project. The Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, the Burns Clinic-Northern Michigan Hospital Foundation, the Offield Foundation, the Michigan Chapter of Rails-to-Trails and the Little Traverse Conservancy, while applauding the concept, were reluctant to become active partners in the initial endeavor. Subsequently, they all became involved.
Tanton offered the new organization office space, facilities, use of US Inc.’s 501 ( C ) 3 status and limited guidance for nominal rent until the organization could fend for itself.
During the development of the initial and final concept throughout much of 1995, “Huffy” was holding meetings every other week (and occasionally more frequently) initially with Bailey, Fettis and McCue and then adding others to fit the needs of the organizational chart and committee structure he envisioned.
- Carlin Smith for Publicity and Public Relations
- Roy Kuczawara, a retired engineer, for Construction Engineering
- Jerry Danin, a retired lawyer, for Legal Affairs
- Tom Bailey agreed to handle Planning & ROW Acquisition; he also acted as the committee’s recording secretary
- Jeff Bodzik , Emmet County Sheriff, for Safety and Security
- Diane Leverance an avid bicyclist to represent Charlevoix County
- Neal Kretchman (Cheboygan) and Bob Valleau (Indian River) were recommended by the Petoskey Snowmobile Club to represent snowmobile interests because of their active roles in the Tip of the Mitt Snowmobile Council; also, to give representation from Cheboygan County
- Roger Srigley, a Petoskey PR consultant was commissioned to develop a “slick” professional color brochure to promote the organization
- “Boo” Litzenberger offered to develop Articles of Incorporation patterned after those of the Little Traverse Conservancy for filing with the State (ultimately completed by John Vought, a Petoskey attorney); and, finally approved by the State of Michigan effective Sept.27, 1995.
- Bill Brown, a recent retiree from state government, was recommended by Andy Hayes, Petoskey Chamber Executive, to “Huffy” as a “can do” type who knew his way in state government circles and a potential replacement for “Huffy.” (“Huffy, who spent his winters in Florida, had made it known he would be leaving this fledgling organization for health and age reasons once it established itself) ; Brown joined the group on July 12, 1995 and later became its first President.
Others from the above list also became members of the organization’s first Board of Directors.
Founding Sponsors, The First Board of Directors and The First Officers
- Mr. & Mrs. Dale Doehrman
- Mr. & Mr. Robert Horner
- Mr. & Mrs. Wesley Hovey
- Mr. & Mrs. Horace M. Huffman, Jr.
- Mr. & Mrs. Dave Irish
- Mr. & Mrs. John McCoy
- Mr. & Mrs. Maxwell Naas
- Mr. & Mr.s Al Olofsson
First Board of Directors
- Tom Bailey
- William Brown
- Jeff Bodzik
- Gerald Danin
- Fred Fettis
- Wesley Hovey
- Horace M. Huffman
- Roy Kuczawara
- Neal Kretchman
- Sebron Litzenberg
- First Officers
- William Brown, President
- Neal McCue, Vice President
- Fred Fettis, Secretary, Treasurer
Giving the Organization a Name
As the Tri-County Bikeway Committee continued to evolve, it became apparent this title did not do justice to the organization’s intent and mission. Already it was evident that the geographic area to be served would soon out grow the 3 counties initially contemplated. Abandoned rail corridors were the primary basis to be used in establishing the trail network envisioned. The group already was aware of rail segments that were abandoned, or soon would be, that went beyond the 3 counties’ borders (e.g.; Cheboygan to Hawks; Indian River to Gaylord). Since the mission involved facilitating and advocacy, the term “committee” didn’t seem quiet appropriate. Various new titles were considered. Finally “Tip of the Mitt Trails Council” was selected. The “Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council” promptly advised that the similarity could cause identity problems for both parties. A change to “Top of Michigan Trails Council” was made even though Top of Michigan Electric Co-Op was present in this area. Fortunately, that company subsequently became part of Great Lakes Energy!
Starting a new and somewhat unique organization from scratch can be a challenge to most persons – but not to “Huffy” Huffman, a master “arm-twister”! All through the process, he had been working behind the scenes to line up potential start-up money. The foundations noted above as well as many of his friends and business acquaintances had received his persuasive “pitch” and gave encouragement. Ultimately, $10,000 was pledged from 8 Founding Members and several of the foundations committed to grants funding the next 2 years bringing the total to $46,000. This enabled the organization to consider hiring a full time Executive Director, occupy the office space offered by US Inc. and commence full time operations in late 1995.
Since its inception, TOMTC has depended for its operating existence on three principle sources:
- Annual Memberships and renewals ranging from $25 for an individual and $50 for family to other classifications up to $1,000
- Grants (restricted for very specific projects/programs, and, unrestricted for general operations)
- Donations of money, services and goods
- Trail activities/events
- TOMTC had been meeting at the Little Traverse Conservancy’s offices near the intersection of M-119 and Powell Road during this developmental period and the first few Board of Director meetings until acceptance of US, Inc.’s offer of office space.
US Inc.’s offices were located on the second floor at 316 ½ E. Mitchell St. in Petoskey. Other that for a severe climb up a narrow stairway, the location was fine – right in the middle of Downtown, Petoskey! When the “space” assigned (a former storage area, 10’ x 12’ and no windows) was first visited by Brown, he gulped but quickly said “Thank you very much!” He was shown the mail delivery “system”, the copy and fax machines and given keys to the office entry and street level doors. An old Steel Case desk (without feet) came from somewhere and put up on cement blocks and dusted off. An old steel file cabinet was donated by Bob Valleau. Neal McCue was able to obtain an old work table from Boyne Highlands that was no longer of use to them. Various other used items appeared from other donors. The Trails Council now was in business in its own quarters. Brown ordered a single line telephone from the phone company. A “working” computer with monitor was donated by the Conservancy. The only major purchases were a compatible printer and a telephone answering machine.
US Inc.’s office lease was expiring in early 1999. It, along with TOMTC were forced to relocate. Dr. Tanton found larger and better office space on the second floor of the former Montgomery Ward building at 445 E. Mitchell St. which was being renovated by its new owner, the Petoskey Land and Cattle Co. TOMTC was able to negotiate more adequate space with Dr. Tanton and moved along with US, Inc. in January, 1999. In late 2000, The Trails Council learned of newly renovated and larger space in the “lower level” of 445 E. Mitchell St. becoming available. The Trails Council moved into this new area in early 2001. The office was moved atain, this time only 110 feet down the hall to a larger, more usable space. The layout provided two private offices with windows, two open office spaces and a closed storage room. The second private office was occupied by Emily Meyerson, MDNR's Northern Michigan Trails Coordinator. This was a great opportunity to increase the already good interaction between MDNR and TOMTC since Emily was very active as a member of the Little Traverse Wheelway Committee as well as a frequent guest at TOMTC Board meetings. Also, she was working as a contract worker for MDNR via a grant contract administered by TOMTC. This arrangement also provided nominal rental income to TOMTC. As a bonus, Emily's territory of responsibility coincides with TOMTC's.
Today TOMTC offers its its members and other interested parties several services.
- a meeting room in the office for trail related matters
- a quarterly newsletter, “Trailwise”
- an interactive website
- 501 ( c )3 tax exempt status for use by affiliated local trail committees
- an extensive news clipping and trail media library including some items for sale (maps, pamphlets, tee shirts, etc.)
- a series of guided trail rides during summer months
- other trail-related programs, events and fund raisers
- the housing of the Northern Michigan Trails Coordinator at our office provides improved communication to further benefit users of our trails.
The Executive Director
In late 2005, on the "retirement" of President Jerry Corley, the board again decided to bring in a new executive director to professionalize our operation. The volunteers were proud of what they had done but recognized that there is no substitute for a director with professional skills to carry us into the future. Accordingly, after the election of Charlie MacInnis as President, Anne McDevitt was hired as the new director and has been on the job since November 2005.
The Early Trail System:
Prior to the advent of TOMTC, The Little Traverse Wheelway Committee, an off shoot 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. More recently, 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 land owners 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 towards 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 rail road 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.
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. Other than for various unimproved seasonal snowmobile trails, the only paved trails in the 3 county area were basically what existed in the Petoskey-Bay View municipal limits.
Local Trail Committees
A basic principle that TOMTC follows in trail development is an emphasis on “local” input and action. TOMTC wants to aid in the process, not control and run it from afar. Thus the reason for creation of Local Trail Committees. As noted, even prior to TOMTC’s entry on the scene, 3 local committees were heavily involved in the Petoskey-Harbor Springs area. TOMTC has urged and helped to create re committees in Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Gaylord.
The Charlevoix Trail Committee. Chaired by Jerry Corley, took the lead in planning, design, funding and construction of the 7.5 mile paved non-motorized trail connecting Petoskey-Bay Harbor with Charlevoix that was opened in October 2002.
The Cheboygan Trail Committee, Chaired by Jim Conboy, a member of the current TOMTC Board, has made considerable progress in upgrading an unimproved 8 mile section of trail between Mackinaw City and Cheboygan. He was aided by Steve Schnell, Director of Development for Mackinaw City and a former TOMTC Board member, and Scott McNeill, City Manager of Cheboygan and also a former member of the TOMTC Board. Schnell is now a Regional Representative for TOMTC in the Mackinaw City area.
In Gaylord (Otsego County), Paul Beachnau, a former City and Boyne Falls. All of this is the beginning of the fulfillment of the Charlevoix County Board member and also Director of the Gaylord Chamber of Commerce and Business and Convention Bureau, worked closely with a local trail planning group to develop a trail around Gaylord that would connect with the TOMTC trail coming south between Indian River-Wolverine-Vanderbilt and Gaylord. Beachnau left the TOMTC Board when he was elected as an Otsego County Commissioner. There still remains work to be done in re-establishing an active Gaylord Trail Committee. A trail south from Gaylord to Grayling (28 miles) is a likely possibility.
MDNR and Emily Meyerson, a former Board member (who now works for the DNR as Northern Lower Michigan Trail Coordinator thru a grant administered by TOMTC) are working with the Cheboygan Trail Committee (Conboy) to improve the trail surface between Indian River and Gaylord. A sizable grant is pending with the MDNR and the Federal TEA-21 program which will make this possible. The TEA-21 program is pending renewal by Congress and hopefully will be authorized for another 6 years yet in 2005.
Most recently, a new committee, the Boyne City-Charlevoix Trail Committee has been formed with help from Corley and Larry Sullivan, Charlevoix County Planner (and newly appointed TOMTC Regional Representative) . Mike Sheean (a recent addition to the TOMTC Board) is working with The Friends of the Boyne River to build a trail between Boyne Recreational Plan of 1984 which will ultimately connect Charlevoix, Boyne City and East Jordan with non-motorized trails around Lake Charlevoix including a spur to Boyne Falls. This network will tie into the Little Traverse Wheelway trail coming west from Bay Harbor and Bay Shore near the Charlevoix Country Club. This recent flurry of trail activity in Charlevoix County has been heavily supported by the Charlevoix Community Foundation, the Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce and the Charlevoix Convention and Visitors Bureau
A trail committee is curently being formed in the Alpena-Rogers City area by Mary Ann Heidemann currently. Mary Ann is Director of Economic Development for Presque Isle County and a Regional Representative for TOMTC. The intent is to link up a Lake Huron shoreline trail system with TOMTC’s trail coming southeastward to Hawks from Cheboygan.
Other local trail committees will be needed before the full network of trails is completed in Northern Lower Michigan. For example, a local group from the Elk Rapids area has contacted TOMTC to explore the development of a trail south from Charlevoix through Antrim County (Atwood, East Port, Torch Lake, Kewadin and Elk Rapids) to eventually link up near Acme in Grand Traverse County with the TART trail network in the Traverse City area and Leelanau county. This route probably would generally parallel US 31 S and the Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay shoreline.
Having the impetus for a particular trail segment come from each local area aids in overcoming local resistance to a trail; furthermore, it aids in fund raising for both local match money and securing large grants from State and Federal agencies. TOMTC has learned from experience that these governmental agencies are prone to support such efforts only if there is very strong evidence that local interest and involvement are present. Similarly, private foundations are much more likely to act favorably on grant applications when the local area in strongly in favor of the project and willing to help in its funding.
(Note: the term “Regional Representative for TOMTC” has been used in the foregoing section. TOMTC has tried to make use of former Board of Directors members in their local regions as an informal extension of the Boards influence to take advantage of their experience and contacts. In the case of Mary Ann Heidemann, she was unable to accept membership on the TOMTC Board because of the long travel distance but agreed to promote TOMTC in her region.)
TOMTC's Planned Trail Network
TOMTC’s early plan consisted primarily of 3 major “trunk line” elements, all starting at Mackinaw City and following abandoned RR ROWs.
- The Western Trunk Line proceeds southwestward from a new MDNR Trail Head in Mackinaw City along an abandoned rail banked ROW passing through Carp (Paradise) Lake, Van, Levering, Pellston, Alanson, Oden, Conway and ending at Spring Lake Park. A safe crossing of M-119 is needed to connect with the trail TOMTC and the Wheelway Committee has developed with MDOT, MDNR and MDEQ that comes out of East Bay View behind Glen’s North and the State Police Post. The current old rail bed is fairly good for mountain bikes and parts of it north from Alanson is heavily used in winter by snowmobiles. Easements are needed on about 2 miles south from Alanson to Blumke Road and a short piece along Pellston Airport. This Trunk ultimately can connect with trails coming north from Traverse City’s TART system that will connect with the trail going south through Antrim County (Elk Rapids) as noted previously.
- The Central Trunk Line proceeds southeastward from the Mackinaw City Trail Head past Old Mill Creek State Park to Cheboygan on the former RR ROW which has been partially upgraded (packed gravel) by the Cheboygan Trail Committee. This segment parallels US 23 and the Lake Huron shoreline. From Cheboygan the Former RR ROW goes southwestward to Mullett Lake; along the north shore of the lake for 12 miles (designated by MDNR as a “quiet” trail - snowmobiles prohibited) through Topinobee to Indian River; then straight south to Gaylord passing through/by Wolverine and Vanderbilt (this is the $6,000,000 “Jennifer’s Trail” alluded to earlier). Considerable controversy continues over the quiet trail segment along Mullett Lake from snowmobilers. An alternate route has been promised by MDNR but as yet does not exist. A major MDNR Trust Fund grant is pending for improving the surface from Cheboygan to Gaylord. This probably will not be acted upon until after Congress extends the current Federal Transportation Funding Act.
- The Eastern Trunk Line proceeds out of Mackinaw City to Cheboygan (using the same trail as described above for the Central Trunk Line). From Cheboygan the RR ROW dips southwestward to Mullet Lake; along the south shore of Mullett Lake and Aloha State Park; and then southeast through Tower, Onaway to Hawks. This trail segment is the least improved of all 3 trunk lines and is currently used almost exclusively for snowmobiling. It has considerable potential for equestrian use when remaining ballast stone is removed and appropriate equestrian “camp” facilities are established, (This is also true but to a lesser extent for designated parts of the Central Trunk ). Significant improvement to the trail surface south of Onaway is a long term consideration and probably will receive lower priority for any Federal and State funding because of low population and lack of significant points of interest.
Even further out on the time line is potential for extending and improving the trail from Hawks to Alpena. Along the Lake Huron shoreline considerable local trail activity is occurring in the Alpena and Rogers City areas. The State is currently considering purchase of the RR ROW to Alpena. This would then provide TOMTC with another opportunity to further expand its trail network
The 3 primary trunk lines flow generally in a north-south direction which leaves significant open areas between them as they proceed southward . At some point and based on need, east-west connectors should be added to provide opportunities for trail users to go east and west between the trunk lines across the northern lower peninsula generally following highway ROWs such as M-68, M-32 and even M-72. This will be a significantly more costly endeavor since there will be little to no opportunity to utilize abandoned RR ROW property. Easements will be more difficult to obtain in large segments since individual property owners will be involved vs. dealing with one large owner (ie., a railroad). This east-west movement is just beginning to take place as new trails are in the planning stage from Charlevoix to Boyne City, Boyne City to East Jordan, and a spur to Boyne Falls.
Steady growth of recreational trails not only in Northern Lower Michigan but throughout Michigan and the entire United States is happening. This is very encouraging to those closely involved in multi-use recreational trails. It is further evidence of a strong trend in America towards outdoor living, health and fitness which is long over due. Also, more and more people prefer using such alternative safe modes for getting from one place to another for work, school, site-seeing or just traveling. This change in public attitude and growth in public awareness can only help to expand and speed up the progress made in multi-use recreational trail development.