Happy Trails: Michigan families can enter a whole new world without ever leaving their home state

Happy Trails:  Michigan families can enter a whole new world without ever leaving their home state

Flying. That’s how 12-year-old Tonya Harris describes the freedom she feels when she’s on her bike.

“It’s a liberating experience that is ageless and more important now than ever as our constantly connected lifestyles scream for an opportunity to relax and unwind,” says Mary McGuire Slevin, a cycling enthusiast and assistant director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

Michigan’s bike trails offer a great escape – an opportunity to disconnect the devices and reconnect with Mother Nature.

Whether in neighborhoods or on designated trails, bike-riding creates a sense of community that David Burwell, co-founder of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, once compared to socializing on “America’s front porch.”

It’s the place where friends and family can reunite and engage.

Whether you’re up for a short ride or a long excursion, a heart-pumping challenge, a group ride or a leisurely afternoon with the family, there are plenty of trails, greenways or mountain bike paths to choose from throughout the state, and many within minutes of your doorstep.

Many offer breathtaking scenery and attract international visitors, who recognize Michigan as one of the top biking destinations in the world.


Bike trails take riders through some of Michigan’s most beautiful, outdoor scenery, while providing a path to fun and fitness. Photo courtesy of Michigan Trails

Bicycling lets you experience the wonders of nature and the beauties of otherwise hidden scenery – and don’t forget the health benefits to riders of all ages.

Detroit and Flint are particularly fortunate to offer residents some of the finest bike trails in the region. From Bluebell Beach to Dequindre Cut, families and friends can use some of Michigan’s safest and cleanest paths as road maps to enjoy recreation and improve fitness.

Riding the local trails often leads to interest in exploring the kind of broader pathways that are beginning to define Michigan’s entire landscape.


“Trails are America’s new front porch – a new place for people to have a social life, a new forum of public space where you can meet people – your neighbors – in a non-threatening manner,” David Burwell, co-founder and president of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, once said. “Trails can fill the social function that front porches used to play before we eliminated most of them.”

The Russell family hits Flint’s many bike trails as often as they can. Photo by Paul Engstrom

From its Lansing-based headquarters, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (Michigan Trails) promotes use of former railways as bicycle paths, as well as expanding connections between existing trails.

In Flint, the Russell family takes advantage of the “I Bike Parks” program, which lets riders explore Genesee County Parks. Parents Noel and Kay have gone on regular two-wheeled outings with son Noel II, 11, and daughter Noelah, 13.

“It’s the nicest trail,” Kay Russell says of the park at Bluebell Beach where Angela Stamps coordinates

I Bike Parks. All ages and all skill levels can participate, often riding while wearing helmet cameras that capture the experience.

The Berston Bicycle Club supports the parks program and provides trail guidance and safety tips to families like the Russells. Biking has benefits beyond the physical, says Stamps, Berston Bicycle Club’s founder. “You travel in real time,” she says. “You get to re-think things.”


Biking offers an added benefit to anyone looking to shape up and slim down.

Experts estimate a person can burn 650 calories riding at 15 miles an hour for about 60 minutes. Like other workouts, biking can improve cardiovascular health, reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, lower risks for heart disease, and increase muscle mass. It also has a major advantage. Cycling is easier on the body than jogging, step aerobics and other exercise that involves impact on knees, joints and the back.

It’s also a wonderful outlet, even for those who prefer to take more leisurely rides.

With popular movements like Detroit’s acclaimed Slow Roll, which regularly unites riders for fun and free-wheeling camaraderie, cyclists are the darlings of neighborhoods on the rebound. Even beyond designated trails, thousands of people from around the region come together throughout the summer for organized rides on routes that include historic communities with the kind of character you won’t find in cookie-cutter subdivisions.


Bike trails take riders through some of Michigan’s most beautiful, outdoor scenery, while providing a path to fun and fitness. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism Council

Michigan Trails, originally founded as Michigan TRails Alliance, has worked to help see 3,000 miles of multi-use paths developed in the state, for enjoyment by fitness buffs and nature observers alike.

In 2008, Michigan Trails joined the Michigan Fitness Foundation and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports, resulting in notable achievements. It created interstate trails including the Downriver Greenway and Iron Belle Trail, the expansion of guided family-friendly group rides like the Trail Towns Tour and the popular Michigander Bicycle Tour, which takes riders along scenic pathways through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Traverse City, Leland and Frankfort.

With so many options available to Michigan residents, the only question that might remain for those new to cycling is, “How do I get started?”

  • Find the right fit – The first step, given every person is built a little differently, is to buy a bike that fits the body comfortably. Potential bikers should work with a professional to make sure they have the right size and comfort for maneuvering. Used bike shops can provide affordable, quality riding experiences, and newer bikes might cost about $150. Increasingly, companies and local organizations have even begun to offer bike rentals.
  • Wear a helmet – It’s the recommended way to avoid potential injuries, whether traveling a trail or cruising concrete.
  • Avoid busy thoroughfares – If you do ride in the streets, follow all traffic laws, just as you would if you were driving a car.
  • Increase the distance – If fitness is the goal, plan the safest routes with the least interruption or delays. Speed isn’t as important as riding continuously, while gradually adding to the distance you travel as your stamina increases.
  • Bring a friend – For safety when traveling more isolated paths, and to share the fun, it’s never a bad idea to bike with a buddy or family member. You might even look up the nearest cycling club or contact your local fitness center to find some buddies.
  • Dress for the occasion – Wear comfortable clothing, like sweats or shorts, and wear bright clothing or illuminating arm bands when riding at dusk or at night. Avoid baggy jeans or fringe that can get caught in peddles or spokes.







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