Glen Arbor a bikers’ paradise?


Heritage Trail expands, bike lanes painted through town, digital map introduced

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

Just before Memorial Day weekend, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail officially opened its third leg, which stretches roughly from the Crystal River dam (on County Road 675, 1.5 miles east of Glen Arbor) up to the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. That 3.4-mile stretch makes the popular Heritage Trail nearly 13 miles long.

Bikers and runners can now reach Port Oneida’s pristine farmsteads or hike the Pyramid Point trail, without having to brave automobile traffic on M-22.

The Port Oneida leg is distinct. It features a boardwalk along the swampy area that parallels Westman Road, 2.16 miles of pavement, and crushed limestone once the visitor reaches the Rural Historic District. It offers a gentler ride than the hilly section between the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb and Empire, says the National Lakeshore’s deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich.

That’s not the only welcoming sign for bikers. Glen Arbor is now routing bicyclists through its downtown, instead of encouraging them to circumvent the business district. In mid-May, 5-foot-wide bike lanes were painted on both sides of M-22, from the four-way stop sign at Anderson’s Market to Crystal River Outfitters on the east side of town.

This past winter, the Glen Arbor Township’s Transportation Subcommittee strongly recommended that the town adopt a “complete streets” initiative and embrace bike traffic through its bustling business district. The recommendation found that more bike signage would have a “calming effect” on automobiles and also encourage people to park their cars elsewhere and bike to Glen Arbor. Automobile parking, particularly during the height of summer, is considered one of the town’s most daunting challenges.

The Township’s embrace of bike lanes represents a major shift. In July 2012, the Township Board voted unanimously to route the Glen Arbor portion of the Heritage Trail around downtown and not through it. “Our major concern that came out of public hearings was of pedestrians and bikers coming through an area already crowded with cars,” township supervisor John Soderholm said at the time. Public dissent following the Township’s decision was swift, particularly on the heavily trafficked “Glen Arbor” Facebook page.

Three years later, Glen Arbor’s powers-that-be have concluded that routing bike traffic through the heart of downtown is the way to go.

Jim Lively, a Maple City resident and planner at the Traverse City-based Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities (formerly the Michigan Land Use Institute) sees striped bike lanes and bike racks as clear signs that a community welcomes bikers and wants to give them a place at the table.

“We need to look at villages as small urban centers that should be attractive to people outside of their cars,” said Lively. “No one spends any money in our villages when they’re sitting in their cars. Economic development happens when they get out of their cars. If you have bike parking in front of your stores, you’ll get their money. Sending bikers around town doesn’t make sense from an economic standpoint.”

There’s money to be made by embracing bikers. A Michigan Department of Transportation reported last August concluded that bicycling provides an estimated $668 million per year in economic benefit to Michigan’s economy, including employment, retail revenue, tourism expenditure, and increased health and productivity.

Complete streets advocates like Gary Howe, a Traverse City commissioner and avid bicyclist, perceives that Glen Arbor has acknowledged the issue and needed to redesign streets to accommodate bikers. But he views the Township’s plan as far from perfect. “A bike lane less than 6 feet wide is most likely too narrow,” says Howe. “Anything less adjacent to parked cars is basically a ‘door zone’.”

In order to embrace bikes, and reduce automobile traffic congestion, Glen Arbor could go even further, Howe suggests.

Digital biking map

IMap-FriendsFriends of Sleeping Bear, the nonprofit group that teams up with the National Lakeshore to maintain the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, has unveiled an online interactive map of the trail that features landmarks, photographs and businesses along its route. Check it out at

The IMap, as project manager Ross McAninch calls it, is designed to provide viewers with an interactive tool enabling them to explore the features and businesses along the trail.

“In the past, you’d grab your bike, go to the Dune Climb and ride the trail,” says McAninch. “I want to give people the tools to get a boxed lunch, get on the trail, find benches and tables, eat their lunch, take a dip, and ride back.”

The IMap will soon feature trail photos from all four seasons, which helps sell the Heritage Trail to visitors, both before they arrive in Glen Arbor and after their trip. “With this map, they can walk down the virtual trail in the wintertime,” says McAninch. “It keeps them in the Northern Michigan mindset. The more they do that, the more they’ll come back, and extend their vacations with us.”

The National Lakeshore will reintroduce an interactive video kiosk featuring the Friends of Sleeping Bear’s IMap in the Park’s visitors center in Empire. The IMap will also be featured on video screens at Park campgrounds.