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Grand Plans for a Grand Loop

Grand Plans for a Grand Loop

Trail Accelerator Grantee: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Posted: February 26, 2024
Friends of GRP

Twenty-five miles east of Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline, the city of Grand Rapids is known for art museums and sculpture gardens, a rich architectural history, the amenities of the Grand River, and a robust network of local parks and green spaces. With a mix of old-growth hardwoods and forested woodlands, these parks offer excellent topography and elevation for trails.

This is no secret to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the West Michigan Mountain Bike Alliance (WMMBA), the local organizations behind thousands of volunteer hours dedicated to recent bike-optimized opportunities in Grand Rapids. WMMBA sought an IMBA Trail Solutions master plan for the Grand Rapids Bike Park, then worked with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to make it happen. The Richmond Park Flow Track was the site of an IMBA Trail Care School with the trail constructed by IMBA and local volunteers.

While these small-scale, big impact bike opportunities are great for nearby residents and young riders on The Coyotes, the 125-rider scholastic mountain bike team, the community wants to scale up. Grand Rapids, the second-largest city in Michigan and one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest, has the opportunity and demand for much more than its current 7.5 miles of natural surface trail. It’s looking at the mountain bike communities of Bentonville, AR and Chattanooga, TN, and the progress in places like Omaha, NE; and seeing its own potential.

The Grand Loop feasibility study project will assess six parks and land parcels within Grand Rapids for trail opportunities, with the goal of about fifteen miles of new trail. Two to three miles of trail per location would give 90% of Grand Rapids residents trail access within 10 blocks of home. Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has been awarded an IMBA Trail Accelerator grant for a professional concept plan to envision what’s possible per park while considering city-wide connectivity and community engagement—crucial steps for incorporating this vision into a Parks and Recreation Master Plan to see it through.

“IMBA’s Trail Accelerator grant will help us put professional eyes on what we know can be one of the best trail cities in the Midwest and the United States! People have talked for years about making sure we can have a natural surface trail within 10 blocks of 90% of our population. The Trail Accelerator grant process is the keystone we need to make that happen,” said Stacy Bare, Executive Director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

New trails close to home would address a current community challenge: equitable outdoor access for all residents. Project partners recognize how safe and direct access to bike trails has a cascading effect on opportunities for physical activity, transportation, and even social integration and see the Grand Loop as an avenue to grow these opportunities.

“Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is thrilled to partner with IMBA to make this vision come true as we are invested in the overall health of our community, parks, and trees. Trails are an essential part of that! Our volunteers are already excited to get to work and we're excited to share with the community our vision for what can be,” said Bare.

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is working with a deep roster of diverse community partners on this project, including WMMBA as well as Kent County Disability Advocates to ensure trail accessibility for adaptive mountain bikes. Additional partners include Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kent County School Services, Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation, Urban League, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Kent County United Veterans Council, and several neighborhood associations and businesses representing corridor improvement districts.

IMBA’s Trail Solutions planners are looking forward to continuing work in Grand Rapids, and to beginning this feasibility study with the local community.

About the author
Marty Caivano, IMBA Local Programs

Marty started mountain biking in '99, when the usual way to begin riding was to be dragged on a death march by well-meaning friends who left you miles behind with no way to fix a flat. Thankfully, this didn't prevent her from falling in love with the sport (and also becoming a professional…

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