NEW BUFFALO, Mich. (WOOD) — What started as a passing comment from former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in the 1990s is finally close to becoming a reality.
Mitch Barloga remembered that fleeting wish as the start of what is now known as the Marquette Greenway Trail, a 58-mile biking and hiking path that will connect the Windy City to New Buffalo in Southwest Michigan.
The trail system is estimated to cost around $50 million and has gotten a lot of momentum recently after securing a $17.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. That money will go toward the 90% to 95% of the trail that is in Indiana, with some of the funds fueling the construction in Michigan. The mile or so portion between Chicago’s South Side and the Indiana state line has already been completed.
The project has officially been underway since 2009 amid a slew of many obstacles including funding, finding the perfect route and dealing with residents who were opposed to having it in their backyards.
Barloga, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission active transportation manager, said that around 28 of the 58 miles have now been constructed and organizers have secured the money to start 24 more miles. Organizers are still seeking donations cover the costs for the remaining 8 miles, including the 4 in Michigan.
Barloga is confident that there is enough backing from the community that the question is not if there will be a trail, but rather when it will be completed.
“If there’s a will, the money will follow,” he said.
Planning commissions hope for travelers to take full advantage of the pathway by 2026. Construction on the Michigan side of things will hopefully begin next spring if enough money is secured by the end of the year.
Southwest Michigan Planning Commission Senior Planner and Deputy Executive Director Marcy Hamilton said that fundraising efforts started later than other parts of the trail because Amtrak owns the land the route would go through. It wasn’t until last month that organizers worked with the railroad company to secure an easement that would allow the construction of the Marquette Greenway Trail on Amtrak’s land. Hamilton called it a turning point.
“Until we knew we had that property from Amtrak, we didn’t know if we had a project or not,” she said.
The next step is to secure that much-needed funding. Hamilton said around $300,000 is needed to cover the costs. That’s where a Southwest Michigan nonprofit comes in.
Friends of Berrien County Trails has taken part in helping raise the money with multiple dinners at the Bentwood Tavern in New Buffalo, including one on Thursday. The hope, according to President Gary Wood, is to raise at least $25,000 at the event and get a $25,000 match promised by an anonymous donor.
“I think we have a good shot of raising that money by the end of the year,” Wood said. “I think it’s achievable.”
If the money is not raised by the end of the year, Wood said organizers will push back the deadline in hopes of still beginning to build the path on time. There are even plans to expand upon the trail and continue up the Michigan shoreline.
“(We’ll) hopefully hit Mackinac (Bridge) someday,” Hamilton said.
Before that, however, organizers say that the original plan is a one-of-a-kind endeavor that will have lasting impacts on the more than 10 million Midwesterners who travel between the three states every year.
“This is a transformational trail, this is a regional trail with huge significance for the region and the state,” Wood said.
You can help fund the project by donating to the Friends of Berrien County Trails.