BELDING — As the Bruursema family left their home Sunday evening, they had the perfect pathway laid ahead of them for a trip to Central Riverside Park.
Josh Bruursema, along with his wife Becca and daughters, Hannah, 5, and Morgan, 1, hopped on their bikes and cycled their way along the newly opened Fred Meijer River Valley Rail Trail in downtown Belding.
For the Bruursema family, the new trail has opened up a path from their home in northeast Belding straight to the parks located a mile away in downtown Belding, now without the headache of dodging traffic but with the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery that accompanies them along the way.
“We just started riding it last week,” Becca Bruursema said. “We like it. It’s nice to be able to ride and not worry about traffic. We enjoy it.”
“We hope it continues further,” Josh Bruursema said. “We’ve covered the entire Belding trail a couple times already.”
The 2.28-mile trail was dedicated Saturday morning by the Friends of the Fred Meijer River Valley Rail-Trails (FMRVRT) group, as construction on the small section of trail is now complete.
Stretching from Long Lake Road to State Street (M-44), the trail now offers Belding residents, and those who visit the city, a chance to cycle through the downtown at a relaxed pace while enjoying three trips over the Flat River via former railway trestles that have now been converted for trail use.
“The city of Belding, we know this is a gem, this is going to bring a lot of people to the community,” Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson said. “The first night they laid the asphalt, and before they were even done, people were already walking the trail.”
Gunderson, who regularly rides the trail as part of his morning routine, said he has already witnessed dozens of residents who have utilized the trail. Now that it’s complete, he expects the rest of the community to join in as well.
“This is big,” he said. “There’s not a morning that goes by when I’m not out here riding my bike that people aren’t walking, jogging, and pushing strollers already.”
Among those at the dedication Saturday was Dennis Kent, regional planner of the Michigan Department of Transportation Grand Region.
“When the communities lose their industries and the rail services, it’s really a big blow to the economy,” he said. “But with the federal enhancement program, which has evolved to the federal transportation alternatives program, we are able to preserve these corridors and repurpose them.”
According to Kent, annually, trails and bicycling contributes approximately $700 million to Michigan’s economy in the form of retail sales, manufacturing and reductions in health care costs.
“This trail, when it is complete, will become part of a statewide system from Alma to Owosso,” he said. “It’s obviously not complete yet, but this is an important link in the system.”
That trail system, when completed, will stretch 125 miles. The sections yet to be completed include stretches from Greenville to Belding, as well as Belding to Lowell.
“This trail here that we have participated with is a very important link to the 22-mile Fred Meijer Flat River Valley trail system,” he said. “It includes three bridges, which are always an obstacle because they tend to be expensive.”
The 2.28-mile stretch in Belding cost approximately $1.2 million to complete. The majority of the project was covered by federal and state grants in the amount of $1,154,894.74, leaving the remaining to be paid by the Fred Meijer Foundation at $92,000, the FMRVRT Friends Group at $52,000, and $25,000 of the city’s general fund.
Kerwin Keen, an engineer with Williams and Works, the engineering firm hired to design the trail, said this was one of his favorite projects to have been a part of.
“I hope that this asset, this trail, is a blessing to this community and serves as a jewel, just one of the many jewels in the crown of Belding,” he said. “This trail will connect to hundreds of miles, and when it brings people to this community and the communities around here, and people see what Michigan has to offer, it will be a blessing for us.”
Executive Director of the Michigan Trails and Greens Alliance Nancy Krupiarz said that the future of the trail now lies in the hands of Belding moving forward.
“The challenge now lies in how your community will embrace the trail from now on,” she said. “Along this 125-mile trail network, it is the small-town friendliness and the welcoming atmosphere that will bring the bicyclists and hikers to your town.”