2017-12-31 / Insight

Friends of the Polly Ann Trail miss grant funding

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


David Howell, Chairman of the Friends of the Polly Ann Trail, is disappointed Lapeer County didn’t get funding for major improvements to the Polly Ann Trail from the DNR for the 2018 season, but he vowed to try again in the next round of funding. 
Photo by Phil Foley David Howell, Chairman of the Friends of the Polly Ann Trail, is disappointed Lapeer County didn’t get funding for major improvements to the Polly Ann Trail from the DNR for the 2018 season, but he vowed to try again in the next round of funding. Photo by Phil Foley IMLAY CITY – It may well have been the biggest year the Friends of the Polly Ann Trail had in the two decades since they the fought to keep 20 miles of a one-time railroad a public path instead of letting it fade back into the landscape and next year could be even bigger.

Last spring the group set a goal of raising $100,000 in support of Lapeer County’s application for a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The Friends, between pledges and cash donations, exceeded their goal by more than 10 percent.

The money would have allowed the county to make improvements to the trail between Imlay City and Dryden, including paving it with crushed limestone, replacing six culverts, make two bridge approach structures meet ADA standards and clear branches along the trail. But earlier this month, The Friends missed getting money from the Trust Fund by five points.

If they’d been successful, it would have been the second biggest project on the trail after the land acquisition itself.

Friends Chairman David Howell has vowed to reapply in 2018.

He said the Imlay City-Dryden section of the trail was selected for improvements first, because it’s the most heavily used section of the 20 miles of trail between Kings Mill and the county line at Bordman Road. The Friends first began talking about improving this section of the trail in 2014.

Earlier this year Joe Stock, the county’s program and operations manager, told county commissioners the DNR has already done the engineering for a $1.6- million upgrade to the trail between Imlay City and the county line at Bordman Road. All that’s needed now is funding.

The trail follows the track of the old Pontiac, Oxford and Northern Railroad. While only 20 miles exists today in Lapeer County, the line once stretched from Pontiac 100 miles north to Caseville.

Begun in 1889 and absorbed into the Grand Trunk Railroad system in 1909, The line was known variously as the Poor, Old and Neglected and the Polly Ann by locals. It ceased operations in 1984.

The Friends formed in 1997 to convince the DNR to purchase the roadbed for use as a linear public park. Two years later the state acquired 20 miles of the roadbed in Lapeer County and another 14 in Oakland County, which connects to a network of trails farther south.

Over the past two decades the group has organized annual trail walks and rides and has donated tens of thousands of dollars for several improvements to the trail.

Their first project in 2000 was to convert six railroad trestles into bridges suitable for use by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.

Since then they’ve helped complete the construction of a trailhead on Fourth Street in Imlay City; helped acquire a seven-acre parcel that connecting the Polly Ann Trail with General Squier Park in Dryden Township; donated a bike rack and an informational kiosk at Dryden Memorial Park; and helped fund LED lightening along the trail in Imlay City.

Local business people, like Mike Romine, owner of Mulefoot Gastropub, believe improving the trail could help boost local tourism. In August he held a pig roast at his restaurant that raised $1,800 toward the local matching money for the grant.

The trail was mentioned in an MSU Extension survey of Imlay City tourism potential in October.

Howell said he’s hope those who donated or pledged funds to the Polly Ann Trail grant effort will let things ride. The group will be submitting a new funding request the end of March.

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