WASHINGTON - One of the joys of my job is that my travels across Michigan give me an opportunity to enjoy our state's abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. On a cool Saturday morning a few weeks ago, that meant hiking a portion of the North Country Trail - a great chance to enjoy some of Michigan's beauty and to see a stretch of the trail I've been working to help improve for years.
To celebrate National Trails Day, I joined about 15 members of the Tittabawassee Chapter of the North Country Trail Association on a portion of the trail near Alba in Antrim County. I hiked with them for two miles, over rolling and forested country, and as we walked, the association members told me about the abundant plant and animal life we passed, their work maintaining the trail, and the damage done to local forests by a recent tent caterpillar infestation. We all owe these volunteers, who perform much of the work in establishing and maintaining these trails, a big thanks.
Two miles, of course, is just the tiniest sliver of the North Country Trail. Created in 1980, the trail stretches for more than 4,500 miles, from Upstate New York to North Dakota, making it the longest trail in the National Park Service system. It crosses into Hillsdale County from Ohio, and winds through some of Michigan's most scenic territory all the way to the Wisconsin border near Ironwood.
Sen. Carl Levin
I and other lawmakers in the North Country Trail states have worked hard to support the trail and to protect wilderness areas through which it passes. I continue to seek "unit status" for the trail, a technical designation that would mean greater access to National Park Service funding and programs.
This year, I was joined by seven Senate colleagues in asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to boost funding for the trail. Last year, we enacted legislation that I introduced to ease the acquisition of land for the trail from willing sellers.
The North Country Trail may be our state's longest, but many paths, short and long, cross our state, highlighting our scenic beauty, history and culture.
On the same weekend as my North Country Trail hike, I visited the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary near Alpena, where we dedicated new improvements to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail. The trail shows off the beauty of Lake Huron and some of the rich shipping history of the Great Lakes.
I am an enthusiastic supporter of funding for the Leelanau Scenic Heritage Trail, 27 miles of trail that connects the major scenic areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan with the villages of Empire and Glen Arbor. I have worked to secure funding for projects along the Detroit River establishing a walkway and greenway along that historic waterway, which once was an industrial wasteland and is now being transformed into a hub of recreation and environmental preservation. And this year, I am seeking funding for several trail projects, from the historic Iron Range near Marquette to the Lake St. Clair shoreline in Macomb County.
I support these trail projects because for some Michiganians, they are places to exercise; for others, they're a means of transportation; for still others, a way to find quiet and inspiration. For all of us, they're an important connection to the natural beauty that lies at the heart of Michigan's identity and spirit. Through farmlands and forests, along the shores of mighty lakes or the banks of quiet streams, these trails mean the scenic wonders of our state are just a short hike away for all of us. I hope you'll join me this summer in taking advantage of these paths to Michigan's beauty.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Carl Levin, a Democrat, represents Michigan in the U.S. Senate.