Michigan Trails and Greenways Celebrates the People Power of Trails

September 25, 2019

Lansing, MI – To celebrate Michigan Trails Week, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance recognized 14 recipients of their Annual Trail Awards for their exemplary leadership as trail advocates in a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda today.

Michigan Trails and Greenways bestowed their highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement award, upon two individuals instrumental in building the Great Lake-to-Lake Trails Route #1 – Mike Levine and John Calvert. Levine’s passion for trails, trail groups, and vision of connecting Michigan’s communities and people is unmatched, as evidenced by the opening of the Route #1 destination trail this past week. Levine was commended for his work on Route #1, the Mike Levine Lakelands Trail State Park, and for sponsoring history telling along our trails. John Calvert was recognized for his work as a founder of the Friends of the Lakelands Trail, Safe Routes to School program in Pinckney and as a driving force to help develop Route #1, which travels from South Haven to Port Huron.

At the state level, Michigan Trails and Greenways was pleased to recognize Representative Rebekah Warren as Michigan Trails Legislator of the Year for her tireless advocacy to protect Michigan’s natural resources and reach across the aisle to work on key policy issues. Rep. Warren was thanked for sponsoring Recreation Passport legislation vital to local parks and trails funding and supporting the state’s first designated water trails.

For outstanding work at the government level, Nikki VanBloem, MDNR Acting Grants and Services Unit Manager, and Paul Yauk, MDNR Trails Coordinator, received the State Agency Employee of the Year award. VanBloem was thanked for her efforts to pave the way for the Great Lake-to-Lake Trails Route #1 and the Iron Belle Trail in Southeast Michigan. VanBloem has been the go-to trails person for Route #1 and mentored countless state, local, and nonprofit trail workers. Yauk was hailed for building and maintaining a great trails team and constantly striving to advocate for nonmotorized and motorized trail groups. Yauk was thanked for being a great trails ambassador for the state.

On the local level, Kristen Wiltfang, Principal Planner for Economic Development and Community Affairs in Oakland County, received the Local Government Employee of the Year award for her work on trails in southeast Michigan. Wiltfang was recognized as a selfless, tireless trail advocate in Oakland County who helped make the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Summits and the subsequent opening of Route #1 a success.

Michigan Trails also recognized volunteers of the year for all trail user groups. The Volunteer of the Year award for multiuse trails was awarded to Fred Lewis and Bill Hermann. Lewis is the chairperson of the Iosco Exploration Trail and was recognized for his deep commitment and drive to building this trail. Lewis was lauded as an ombudsman between county and township officials, engineers, and state and federal agencies. Herman is the Milford Trail trail manager and the Milford Trail Challenge coordinator. Herman was recognized for connecting Milford to Huron Valley, Kensington Metroparks, Island Lake, Highland, and Proud Lake Recreation Areas.

The Volunteer of the Year award for mountain bike trails was awarded to Gordie Allen, a longtime Michigan Mountain Biking Association board member. Allen passed away suddenly in April, and his good friend Mike Needham received the award, recognizing Allen’s work building trails in Fort Custer Recreation Area. Allen was commended for having the longest track record of helping to build the sport of mountain biking in Michigan.

MTGA recognized Kim Meerhaeghe of the Detroit Heritage River Water Trail as the Volunteer of the Year for water trails. Meerhaeghe developed an anti-litter program in partnership with the Belle Isle Conservancy, Riverside Kayak Connection, and MDNR that has been highly successful. Meerhaeghe was thanked for the “litter box” interactive display she created and designed that continues to educate the public on the impact of litter.

The Volunteer of the Year award for hiking trails was awarded to Mary Campbell of the North Country Trail Association’s Jordan Valley 45° Chapter. As the Chapter President, she was recognized for serving as the nexus between numerous bodies of government, private businesses, and charitable foundations to secure funding for the Iron Belle Bear River Bridge. The bridge is a significant link to the North Country Trail south of Petoskey.

Michigan Trails awarded Jenny Cook the Volunteer of the Year for equestrian trails. Cook serves as the Governor’s appointee for equestrian users on the Michigan Trails Advisory Council and has been a tireless advocate for beach riding and all forms of equestrian trail use. Cook succeeded in implementing a pilot program for regional rides along key beaches in Michigan.

Efforts to recognize trail volunteers would not be complete without the inclusion of motorized users. Don Britton received the Volunteer of the Year award on motorized trails for his work on trails in Chocolay Township, the Snowmobile/Hike Trail to Marquette, and the popular Iron Ore Heritage Trail. Britton is an active member of the Snowmobile Advisory Committee and was praised for bringing U.P. trail groups together to increase access.

The Alliance also wanted to recognize the business community’s role in trail building and awarded REI the Business Organization of the Year award. Michelle Yancy, REI Regional Director, accepted the award with local store managers for demonstrating a conservation ethic. REI was commended for their company policy of giving 70% of profits back to the community, members, and employees.

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