Op-ed: Heritage Trail extension offers positive recreational opportunity

The following op-eds by Bob Sutherland and Julie Zapoli—both Little Traverse Lake residents and Glen Arbor business owners—were written in response to the Sun‘s coverage of Little Traverse Lake Association opposition to an expansion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, a portion of which would run near the north shore of the lake.

Image: Happy users on the Heritage Trail inspired Hank Feeley, an artist based in Glen Arbor and New York, to insert a clown in this drawing.

By Bob Sutherland

Op-ed contributor

Recent media coverage of the planned construction of the final north section of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail has focused on several negatives. It is unfortunate that we are going to lose more trees in the development of this trail, but in the big picture, this four-mile extension completes an infinitely positive recreational trail and a key transportation alternative for residents and vacationers in Leelanau County. The recent study that opposition used to stir up doubt in this final section should not take away from the decade of environmentally sensitive planning the National Park Service, Michigan Department of Transportation, Leelanau County Road Commission, and Army Corp of Engineers executed to meet all the federal wetlands, dune and endangered species regulations.

For a decade, a number of residents on Little Traverse Lake have challenged aspects of the trail section that would travel through their neighborhood. These residents should know that their opposition has had a positive effect—as this section of bike trail will be one of the most environmentally sensitive sections of trail in the entire state. Of course, with the special boardwalk sections and dune remediation techniques comes extra expense. Is it fair that these same challengers are now trying to seed doubt over this high cost that they were party to? Let’s be clear. If it costs a little more to protect the environment, let’s do it.

As a longtime champion and fundraiser for the Heritage Trail, I moved to Little Traverse Lake (LTL) excited that my home would be safely connected via bike to all my favorite destinations in southwest Leelanau County. Knowing that there was opposition in my new neighborhood, I decided to lay low and get to know my neighbors and listen. Over the many months, I’ve learned how much the LTL community loves our peaceful pocket of Leelanau.

I have also learned that there are very diverse opinions on the trail in this neck of Leelanau—from vocal proponents to savvy opponents. Most people are neutral to the trail connecting our neighborhood to destinations south of us, but have opinions on whether it should be on the road or off the road. Yet, everyone understands that there are the public officials who actually have a say over this valuable property and those leaders have made a definitive decision. This section of the Heritage Trail will be separated for safety and for optimal user experience.

And so, with trail construction coming as early as this fall, what should we neighbors do?

I am certainly ready to accept this trail and just as importantly, I am ready to welcome a small increase of bike riders to my neighborhood. Mostly, these riders will be Leelanau residents who live near Little Traverse Lake. After a lifetime of being welcomed by generous hosts in other parts of Leelanau, I will reciprocate by hosting here in my beautiful corner. A misconception on these bike trails is that the users are mostly unknown people coming into our neighborhood. Let’s not forget that for the majority of the year, we residents share this county with ourselves. The users will be our friends from Leland, Empire and Cedar.

Even in the busiest time of summer, I will be a friendly host. I know that nearly every visitor has been invited by someone who has deep connections in Leelanau. We Leelana’ans are lucky in this way. There are people in many parts of the United States that have invited their friends and family to come visit them for decades to no avail. We only have to hint at an invitation and our houses are full all July.

Yes, there is still work to be done to finish this great trail. Trail supporters like me continue to fundraise. There is still input to be taken on boardwalk design, on screening, on materials used to berm the hills back. But what work is most needed? The worthwhile efforts to end the enmity and doubt. This section of trail is going to be great. And for the vast majority of us—let’s gracefully accept it.

Accepting the trail will be easy for me. I have this memory of my son Hawthorn at four years old riding the new Heritage Trail for the first time near our old house in Glen Arbor. He was wobbling all over the trail, but I was absolutely content—he was safe. And the words of joy were just bubbling from Hawthorn as he peddled. I envision my brother Matt joyfully biking with his granddaughters who, a year from now might be wobbly riding this new section for the first time. It just makes me so happy for him, for other joyous bike families, a few from far away, but mostly, from nearby. And these rider’s happiness swirls in Leelanau and dabbles here and there and goes round and round to touch all of us.

Bob Sutherland is the founder and president of Cherry Republic.


Recreate neighborly in National Lakeshore

By Julie Zapoli

Op-ed contributor

I made a promise to myself long ago that I would visit as many National Parks as I could when I was older and able. I considered this not just a gift to my adult self, but an honor and almost a personal obligation to appreciate the legacy our country had gifted to each of us. Every one of our National Parks is an experience of awe and wonder. They are a connection to nature, to others through shared recreation or quiet contemplation, and even a place to learn the importance of conservation.

I’m fortunate that I live within walking distance of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I have spent many days year-round playing on the dunes, biking the trails, appreciating the natural beauty of our lakeshore with friends and family, and watching visitors do the same.

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail was always designed as a contiguous trail beginning in Empire and ending up 26 miles later in Good Harbor Beach. The vision was to connect, “historical, cultural, recreational, and environmental points of interest throughout the Lakeshore and surrounding communities; a Trailway that promotes health, environmental, social, and economic benefits and provides a safe alternative for walking, biking, running, and cross-country skiing; and is universally accessible wherever possible.”

Twenty-one of those 26 miles have been completed. I live on Little Traverse Lake where the last five miles of the trail are currently being fought over and objected to by some local residents.

I may fall in the minority of my neighborhood, but I don’t object to an opportunity for others to enjoy the gift of our National Lakeshore. In fact, I embrace the opportunity being provided to the public to appreciate and recreate in my neighborhood. I believe access to natural beauty fosters stewardship and inspires a shared sense of duty of the importance of conservation. We should be encouraging, rather than limiting, access to our shared natural and national resources. 

The National Park Service has a duty to enhance opportunity for public enjoyment of the lands they manage for us and also to do so in an environmentally responsible way. And we, as citizens living near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, have a responsibility—and an opportunity—to share our fortunate situation with our community and visitors. It’s the neighborly thing to do.

Julie Zapoli is co-owner of Inn & Trail Gourmet in Glen Arbor.