BELDING — Downtown Belding will never look the same again.
What was once a busy railway that brought commuter and industry traffic through the heart of downtown will now return in the form of a cycling trail.
It’s been a dream that has been discussed for years, but now, construction has officially started and, come Aug. 1, the Fred Meijer River Valley Rail Trail (FMRVRT) through Belding will be complete.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” said Belding Mayor and FMRVRT Friends group member Ron Gunderson. “The resources that will come to this town from this project, it’s a big positive for the community.”
Gunderson said he envisions a new downtown that will feature families biking the 2.28-mile paved bike trail together, along with visitors from outside of town. He hopes benches along the trail, along with possible future bike racks and other trail accessories, will have visitors stopping for a picnic in Central Riverside Park, ice cream at Millie’s Family Restaurant or dinner at the new Silk City Saloon, all located along the trail.
“We’re finding people are seeking these bike trails to come and ride them,” he said. “We’re ecstatic, we’re delighted about the possibilities, but it’s about the benefits for the people who live in town and the surrounding communities who will now have a different place to bike.”
The trail will take riders from W. State Street (M-44) north through town to Long Lake Road.
Construction on the trail began earlier this month as bulldozers and heavy machinery are currently reshaping the original railway. Construction has also begun on the main railway trestle that connects Bridge Street to High Street over the Flat River.
“I really think this trail is going to overwhelm the residents in town in a good way,” Gunderson said. “The magnitude of people that will be coming to Belding, I think it’s going to be tremendous.”
The 2.28-mile trail is the first section that will be completed of a 37.5-mile stretch from Lowell to Greenville.
According to FMRVRT Friends Group Board Director Carolyn Kane, the stretch of trail through Belding will service as one of the most scenic trailways in Michigan.
“The city of Belding will be a major beneficiary with the three bridges and the natural scenic beauty of the state designated natural river guarded and maintained along the Flat River,” she said.
Kane said the future of the trail, which will eventually be part of a 125-mile network, will serve the greater Grand Rapids, Lansing and Saginaw regions, bringing riders into town from across the state.
However, that scenic beauty comes with a price tag.
According to Kane, the section of trail through Belding, although one of the smallest sections, is one of the most expensive as it includes the development of the three railway trestles in the city.
The entire project is estimated to cost $1,239,582.80, but the majority of the funds are covered through grants.
A grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation will cover $854,894.74 of the costs.
That left the city responsible for $384,688.06 of remaining funds to build the trail.
But another grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in the amount of $300,000 paid for the bulk of the remaining costs, with additional funds coming from the Fred Meijer Foundation at $92,000, the FMRVRT Friends Group at $52,000, and $25,000 of the city’s general fund, leaving a balance available for contingencies at $84,311.94.
But Kane said the Friends Group is still attempting to raise about $30,000 of its $52,000 commitment and would appreciate any available donations to the group.
Recently, the Ionia County Community Foundation presented the group with a $1,000 donation to help assist in the fundraising efforts for the group.
“The Friends of the Trail appreciate the priority placed upon the importance of the opportunities for economic development, better health opportunities and recreation and tourist,” Kane said.
For now, residents will continue to see heavy machinery and engineers digging and constructing the trail throughout the summer, but the trail is expected to be completed before the city’s two biggest downtown events, the annual Gus Macker basketball tournament and Belding Labor Day Celebration festival.
Anyone seeking more information about the trail system or wanting to contribute to the FMRVRT Friends group can call Kane at (989) 427-5555.