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bicyclists and man with dog using trail
couple enjoying walk on trail over wood bridge

Michigan Department of Transportation

Southeast Michigan Greenways Initiative

The Southeast Michigan Greenways Initiative was the first step in an ongoing, comprehensive, collaborative, multidimensional, region-wide enterprise to develop and finance a network of greenways for the seven counties within which roughly 50 percent of Michigan's population live. Although the program started as a planning effort supported primarily with federal and state funds, it is now sustained by private funding and is virtually institutionalized in regional, county and local government jurisdictions throughout southeastern Michigan.

The Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (formerly the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy) and its community partners spearheaded the envisioning process about 10 years ago. Public agencies and private interest groups worked together to find and map potential greenway corridors and the resources these corridors would connect. They also identified possible obstacles-for example, jurisdictional boundaries across which communities compete for scarce resources. A GIS database was created to document potential corridors, natural areas, land uses, public parks, preserves, trails, and greenways. A published "blueprint" emerged from the effort which would enable greater Detroit and 250 municipalities to turn the concept into a reality.

What began as a vision has become an on-the-ground success--a network of non-motorized, open spaces connecting with each other, with natural resources, and with population centers. The initiative connects people among and between communities, enables a wide variety of recreational activities, offers trail-users a way to study and experience natural ecological systems, provides opportunities to mitigate past environmental impacts and soften future impacts, links plant and animal habitats and protects fragile ecosystems, and creates riparian buffers for flood control.

"Human ecology" distinguishes the initiative from similar efforts in the past. The greenways network serves the common interests of people in the seven counties, and in the process, benefits local economies. For example, the area's first annual Apple Blossom Run took place last spring along the 23.5-mile Macomb Orchard Trail. The popular event and regular use of the trail by bikers, hikers, runners, and skaters have boosted business in the local shops along the route.

To vitalize the regional greenway vision and to seek funding and land donations, a Greenways Leadership Council of business, political, and community opinion leaders was created. The Council's efforts culminated in the next step of the process: the establishment of the GreenWays Initiative--a $26.5 million investment by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. The Foundation had raised the money mostly from locally-based foundations like the Kresge Foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund, and the General Motors Foundation. Over the past five years the Community Foundation has awarded 106 grants totaling roughly $15 million. These grants will in turn leverage $90 million in public money (primarily from the Michigan Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources). Together, the public and private money will pay for the completion and expansion of 100 miles of greenways linking more than 75 municipalities and the creation of at least a dozen sub-regional, multi-jurisdictional coalitions of communities. The "green ribbons" will be easily accessible to more than 4.5 million residents of Greater Detroit (Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties). These residents will enjoy greenways such as the Detroit RiverWalk along the Detroit River, the Downriver Linked Greenways connecting 20 communities south of Detroit, and the combined Clinton River Trail and Macomb Orchard Trail passing through 15 communities on the same two-county abandoned rail corridor.

For more information, contact Michael D. Eberlein, eberleinrni@michigan.gov

To learn what greenway networks have been built, what is being done now, and what Southeast Michigan residents want to see in the future, see greenways.cfsem.org.

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