Trail project on track after setback

GLADSTONE — A few setbacks have delayed the start of construction on a new non-motorized trail extending from Gladstone into Escanaba Township along the shore of Little Bay de Noc, but the project is still underway.

The city of Gladstone was anticipating construction to begin on the Little Bay de Noc Trail spring of this year, but issues with the first engineer assigned to the project prevented permit applications from being approved in a timely manner and caused some paperwork related to the project to be returned to the city.

“They actually replaced the engineer that was originally on the project, and we got a new set of engineers from Golder (Associates) that have done an absolutely tremendous job,” said Nicole Sanderson, Gladstone parks and recreation director.

Following the replacement, the city and engineers worked diligently to fast-track the required permits and re-submit the state documents required to begin construction. Currently, the city has all of the necessary permits from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the Army Corps of Engineers. A contract between the city and Escanaba Township outlining how the two municipalities will share the maintenance responsibility of the trail has also been signed.

Barring any further delays, the city expects to have the construction project out for bid in August and to break ground on the trail in September. The project would be completed by early December.

Based on early cost estimates, the project should come in at or below budget. A platform on the trail for fishing and viewing the lake is expected to come in higher than budgeted, but preliminary figures suggest other parts of the trail will be less expensive than anticipated, bringing total costs back down.

“We, of course, won’t know (the total cost) until we let that project out and the bids come in. This is like any other project, you just don’t know until you let it out,” said Sanderson.

Some work on the trailhead that can be done in-house by the city will be completed this summer. This will include a sign recognizing the individuals and groups that contributed to the trail project with donations. Nearly $40,000 was raised locally through an online fundraising campaign. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) matched $35,000 of those funds, bringing the total raised through fundraising efforts closer to $75,000.

Additional funding for the $1.5 million project was secured through grants from MDOT, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund, and the DNR’s Iron Belle Trail fund. Once completed, the Little Bay de Noc Trail will be part of the Iron Belle Trail network, which forms a loop connecting Ironwood to Detroit.

Residents may also see changes this summer to the off-ramp between U.S. 2 & 41 and Lakeshore Drive, where the portion of the trailhead that has already been constructed meets with the road.

“We do see how traffic flow is happening, and where we painted the lines to separate the cars from the bike path is worn right off because people are driving on the bike path,” said Sanderson, who says that the city’s recreation advisory board has instructed her to research some sort of barrier that can be put between the lanes.

Most likely, the barrier will be some sort of low profile divider, similar to dividers used on the Escanaba River Bridge construction project. The dividers themselves would not be enough to physically stop traffic from crossing into the bike lane, but would serve as a reminder to drivers of where the bike lane begins and the vehicle lane ends.

More fine tuning of the intersection may be needed as the trail project progresses, but the location of the trailhead in Van Cleve Park is designed to alleviate any issues related to vehicle traffic for trail users. Users will have access to the park’s restrooms, parking lot, picnic areas, and water, reducing the need for bicyclists and others to cross the road for basic necessities.