By Tom Pink
In northern Michigan, many of us may not give a second thought to a way of life outdoors beyond our back doors, but even we lucky northerners can benefit from efforts in our communities to improve outdoor experiences.
The recent establishment of Sault Ste. Marie’s Power Canal Trail is a good example of taking something for granted and making it better for outdoor enthusiasts. For years, a broken path has existed along most of the canal’s 2 ¼ mile length through Sault Ste. Marie. Now, thanks to cooperation between the city, Cloverland Electrical Cooperative and volunteers who matched a $50,000 Michigan Economic Development Corp. grant, a paved trail runs along the canal from Portage Avenue to Ashmun Street, with plans for an extension from Ashmun to Johnston Streets this summer.
The new trail includes amenities such as benches, bike racks and trash cans, with soon-to-be-installed historical plaques and a “StoryWalk trail” through a grant with the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUP ISD). The trail is easy to follow and accessible and allows views of downtown and the variety of wildlife, including waterfowl, songbirds, and even the occasional beaver, mink and white-tailed deer. Even winter provides some interesting wildlife viewing along the canal. I regularly stop to watch goldeneye ducks diving to feed and once surprised a snowy owl looking for lunch along the bank.
This current mile-long trail is a vital connection to trails and walkways that go farther. From the trail’s west end, hikers can go under the International Bridge to reach Ashmun Bay or take a walkway south and under I-75 to the Ashmun Creek trail. Keep on hiking and you’ll eventually be on the business spur, where a walkway will bring you back downtown. Similarly, once the Ashmun to Johnston portion is complete soon, hikers or bikers headed east will be able to continue down Johnston to Portage and points beyond.
Sault Ste. Marie City Engineer David Boyle said the Ashmun to Johnston portion is scheduled to be completed by August 31.
“We are awaiting delivery on eight historical interpretive panels that will be going out along the entire length of the trail,” Boyle said, adding that the city is working on donor recognition signs as well.
Meanwhile, the StoryWalk plaques will be installed this summer too. Beth Rye, EUP ISD Great Start Collaborative Coordinator, said the program, designed by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, features plaques that display pages of children’s books.“This family-friendly outdoor literacy activity can be enjoyed by everyone,” said Rye, who noted that the EUP ISD will be working with Bayliss Public Library on events featuring this new feature.
Emily Weber of Sault Ste. Marie said her family enjoys the trail and she appreciates the safety afforded by the trail route. “It’s important to have something like this that’s set back from streets and traffic, especially for parents with small children.”
Former Sault Downtown Development Director Justin Knepper was involved in promoting the city’s fundraising efforts that resulted in the MEDC Public Spaces Community Places grant. Knepper is thrilled with the project’s progress, along with the commitment by the city and Cloverland to improve public spaces.
“The Power Canal Trail is a transformative project downtown,” Knepper said. “If you haven’t already walked or bicycled along it, you’re missing some amazing views of the city and power canal. Make sure you check it out!”