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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