Leelanau County is getting the first flow-style mountain biking trail north of Grand Rapids.
The Leelanau Conservancy has tapped Flowtrack Mountain Bike Trails to design and construct a new biking trail within its Palmer Woods Forest Reserve.
Flow trails are defined by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) as trails that “take mountain bikers on a terrain-induced roller coaster experience.” By adding features like banked turns and eliminating sharp corners or sudden obstacles, flow trails deliver a smoother and more predictable ride for cyclists.
Flow trails are becoming increasingly popular throughout the United States. Until now, though, northern Michigan hasn’t had one. The new Palmer Woods trail will be the Lower Peninsula’s first flow-style trail north of Grand Rapids.
“A flow trail, essentially, is constructed in a way that provides gentle uphills and downhills so that you’re using your momentum and gravity to navigate the trail with a lot less pedaling or braking,” says Tom Nelson, Leelanau Conservancy executive director. “It’s an experience that many mountain bike folks love to have.”
The Leelanau Conservancy has been working toward this project for more than two years. The organization purchased the 721-acre Palmer Woods Forest Reserve in early 2016. Almost immediately, the conservancy started opening trails to the public, most of them converted from old logging roads. These trails were intended for hiking and were groomed for cross-country skiing in the wintertime, but the conservancy had other plans for mountain biking.
“Creating a mountain bike trail system was an idea that was on the table from the very beginning, when we were thinking about acquiring the property,” Nelson says. “We took a hard look over the course of a year-plus, just in terms of what would be the most compatible way to do that. We commissioned a master trail plan and made some decisions about having separate use trails, so we would have hiking and cross-country skiing trails separate from the single-track mountain bike trails.”
Nelson says the motivation to keep mountain biking separate from hiking was twofold. First, the conservancy wanted to minimize collisions or other interactions between hikers and cyclists. Second, the conservancy wanted to give each group a unique experience. The new flow-style mountain biking trail is the realization of this goal.
To plan the trail, the Leelanau Conservancy consulted with Chad Jordan, president of the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association (NMMBA), and Cody Sprattmoran, co-founder of Bike Leelanau. Jordan and Sprattmoran brought their ideas and expertise to the table and helped steer the planning process toward a flow trail. They also assisted the Leelanau Conservancy in putting out a call for proposals from mountain bike trail construction companies, and ultimately helped select Flowtrack to helm the project.
Flowtrack is based in the Upper Peninsula, but its owner, Matt Belic, is a Traverse City native. Belic is said to have fallen in love with cycling thanks largely to the Traverse City’s TART Trail system.
Flowtrack is expected to break ground on the new trail in late August. The project will be broken up into multiple phases across a three or four-year timeline. Phase one is expected to finish quickly. Nelson says the first three-mile loop of the mountain bike trail should open this fall, with an additional three miles to follow next summer. By the time the entire Palmer Woods trail system is complete in 2021, it will feature more than nine miles of hiking and skiing trails and more than 11 miles of mountain biking trails.
Nelson says the cost of the trails will be covered by grants and donations. Phase one, which carries an estimated price tag of $200,000, will be completely covered by gifts from “a small number of donors.” The largest contribution comes from the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation, which has previously awarded grants to several Traverse City and Leelanau nonprofits.