GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Slowly but surely, the Idema Explorers Trail and the Grand River Greenway project is taking shape.

The trail system, first imagined by the Ottawa County Parks Commission in 1989 and officially launched in 2016, has completed four of its 12 segments with two more under construction and another set to start construction before the end of the summer.

The four segments that are done include the Georgetown Trail in Georgetown Township, the Versluis Trail along the Grand Valley State University campus in Allendale, the Odawa Trail in Grand Haven and the Grand Haven Boardwalk.

Construction is underway on the Jenison Mill Trail in Georgetown Township and the Bill Idema Moraine Nature Trail in Allendale.

Jessica VanGinhoven with the Ottawa County Parks Department told News 8 that the county hopes to start work on the Bayou Trail in Grand Haven later this year.

A map view of the Grand River Greenway. The trail is marked in orange and black. Black segments mean construction has completed. Orange segments are still under construction or in planning stages. (Courtesy Ottawa County Parks Department)

DECADES OF WORK & PLANNING

The project was one of the first major goals of the Ottawa County Parks Commission when it was founded in 1987. Two years later, the commission adopted its first ever Parks and Recreation plan, which introduced the Grand River Greenway.

The concept was a mission to protect the land around the Grand River and convert it into more recreational opportunities.

“It started with, ‘OK, let’s get these properties, let’s conserve this parkland, make sure we’ve got these individual parks for people to recreate throughout the county. And then let’s get them connected,’” VanGinhoven said.

At that time, there were only two county parks along the Grand: Riverside Park and Deer Creek Park. They constituted 38 acres of land and less than half a mile of riverfront.

By 1994, those numbers had jumped to more than 3,100 acres and more than 13 miles of riverfront, boosted primarily by the Bass River State Recreation Area — a converted gravel mine site purchased by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The Grand River Greenway study was completed and presented in 1995. After more than two decades of work and planning and the approval of a second park millage, the Grand River Greenway Project was launched in 2016 — building new trails and incorporating existing ones to connect Grand Haven and Grand Rapids.

“We’re completing the project in segments,” VanGinhoven said. “We really had to break it down to smaller pieces for a lot of reasons: to get funding, to work with landowners, to get easements. A lot of the trail goes through (county) property, but a lot of (other property owners) have worked together with us in order to make this a reality.”

Ottawa County’s first-ever Parks and Recreation Plan, filed in 1989, included a long-term project eventually connecting Grand Haven to Grand Rapids with a trail network following the Grand River. (Courtesy Ottawa County Parks Department)

MORE WORK TO BE DONE

Though construction is steadily moving along, the project is nowhere near complete.

The target to have all 12 segments of the trail complete is 2027. But the trails won’t be the only draw. The plan is to also add more recreational features, including rustic camping pads and treehouses and yurts that will be available to rent.

“It really ties in well with the exciting development we have going at Ottawa Sands. That’s probably where we are furthest along in talking about camping. We’ve got some more rustic sites that would be for folks maybe paddling or biking the trail. We’ve got some yurts and tree houses planned there, as well,” VanGinhoven said. “It’s really that end piece in Ferrysburg and the Tri-Cities-area that could be a spot where you start or end. It could be a lot of fun.”

The Parks Department plans to open a reservation system for those sites once everything is ready to go.

When the Grand River Greenway project was announced, the budget was estimated around $41 million — $20 million to acquire the land and $21 million for trail construction. VanGinhoven says the project is still on track to stay close to budget even with the recent surge in costs.

Of the $41 million budget, more than $7 million came from private philanthropic groups, including a $2.5 million donation from the late Bill and Bea Idema.