Rolling Forward Through the Past

Sometimes a wonderful resource is born from misfortune.

In 1901, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad  completed a spur from Traverse City to Northport, Michigan under the name Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique Rail Road.  As part of the line, they also established a rail car ferry from Northport to Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Prior to that in 1874, they completed a rail spur from Traverse City back to their main north-south line (Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan) at the tiny village of Walton, Michigan, later renamed Walton Junction.  That 1874 line began the immigration boom that Traverse City still sees to this day.  Diana and I had passed through Walton Junction for years on our way to her parent’s cottage on Fife Lake, never realizing that the name was derived from the meeting of theses two rail lines.

Competing with the already-established Ann Arbor Railroad for freight across the lake, it was quickly discovered that the ferry service wasn’t going to be profitable, so it was discontinued in 1908.  Freight and passenger service continued on through several different companies until 1975.  In 1989, the Leelanau Scenic Railway was established on the line, running to Suttons Bay until 1995, at which time the right-of-way was abandoned and the tracks were torn up.  All that was left of the railroad was the graded land, several bridges, and a handful of depot buildings.

The depot in Suttons Bay as it appeared in 1920…

…and repurposed as a law office today.

Meanwhile in Traverse City, the Traverse Area Recreational Trail had been built along an east/west rail corridor that ran through town.  With the success of that route, the Leelanau Trails Association purchased the 17 mile Leelanau Scenic Railway corridor from Traverse City to Suttons Bay….and work began on what was to become the Leelanau Trail. Asphalt paving was completed in 2013, and the pathway was designated as part of U.S. Bicycle Route 35.

Where trains struggled to get through the snow in winter…

…cross country ski trail groomers now run in the cold weather.

Where the passenger cars used to make their way northward…

…we now find ourselves riding along their former route, 115 years after the railroad was built.

Pedaling the Leelanau Trail (seen above in red) has become one of our favorite pastimes.  We started riding it in earnest last fall when we purchased our TerraTrikes.  Several wineries are located a short distance from the trail, so there isn’t a shortage of places to visit.  🙂    The scenery along the route is amazing.

During the spring, the cherry blossoms carpet the hillsides.

Here is Diana photographing a bank full of Forget-Me-Nots.

These little beauties were the theme we chose for her mom’s funeral guest book; as a result, seeing these made this day pretty darn special.  🙂

We enjoy seeing this draft horse and donkey along the way…

…as well as this huge cow that keeps them company.  🙂

While many of the railroads of northern Michigan were not able to sustain their businesses, the efforts of the railroad workers are being reused through the development of these trails.  We consider ourselves fortunate to be located so close to the Leelanau Trail this srummer, and we look forward to many more rides along this historical pathway before we leave this fall.

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17 thoughts on “Rolling Forward Through the Past”

      1. By that do you mean bigger than average? Or just Cow-Sized? I was surprised by the size of the Texas Longhorns. They seemed to me to be 20% or 30% larger than the cattle I see in WI.

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      2. Dunno…. one cow is pretty much the same as any other until I see something noticeably larger.
        We have friends from near Brisbane AUS. When they arrived and we took them on a visit to the state fair, he was awestruck that we had cows with such LONG LEGS. I guess in AUS they intentionally breed for short legs — so he thought all of our cattle looked weird! To me they were cows.

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    1. We have been riding it from Suttons Bay southward, Jim…which is mostly uphill. The ride back, along with a prevailing wind out of the southwest makes for a swift ride back!

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    1. We had really good history teachers in Allen Park, Michigan, Pam…either that, or it was the water. :). If you’ve ever read michigantraveler.org, Bob is a fellow alumnus of APHS. We both look at a location and wonder ‘why is this here?’

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  1. Great piece of history – especially love seeing the comparative photos of key spots. That little depot is such a gem!! I can see where you would get a lot of riding done on that sweet trail. The draft horse is beautiful!

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    1. Diana and I want to find that barn that is behind the train chugging through the field. That would be nice to swap the picture of her riding with one of her cruising with the barn in the background.

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  2. It is wonderful when old railroads are made into hiking/biking trails. I’m glad to see more and more of this. It always seems to have such nice history along the way too. Loved the Forget-me-Nots.

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    1. Yes, the Forget-me-Nots stopped us in our tracks….pardon the pun. 🙂 We just got our hands on a Rails to Trails guide to Michigan’s trail system, and it says we are spoiled. It seems that Wisconsin started the trend, but they paved most of their trails with crushed stone. Michigan has really gotten into the asphalt paving, which we prefer. Kind of hard to keep the wine glass in the cup holder on the trikes when riding on crushed limestone, Deb. 😉

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  3. Very informative post ! I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the picture of the cherry orchard in bloom. The cherries I have eaten in that part of the world were the best ones I have ever eaten ! 🙂 It was in Wisconsin but it’s not that far away.. they must have a special variety that we cannot find here or maybe it’s the climate

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