Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

From Spikeless To Spokes
By Jim Heil

Take a ride up the steep paved cart path to Boyne Mountain's championship golf courses and it's unlikely you'll encounter anyone on foot.

But peering deep into the woods for wildlife, there's a chance you'll see other riders enjoying an exhilarating descent on a path of their own.

Only their cargo amounts to little more than a water bottle and a few Power Bars. And rather than riding on smooth asphalt, the downhill travelers are negotiating unforgiving trails with gnarly names like The Grinder and Twisters Sister.

Mountain bikers are becoming more prevalent at Boyne Mountain - and throughout Michigan - thanks to a proliferation of trails built for the public's enjoyment. And golfers are increasingly setting aside their spikes for spokes to discover them.

Regardless of where one tees it up in the Great Lakes State, there's likely to be trail designed for ones safe riding pleasure just minutes away.

Michigan's plethora of public golf courses, along with its construction of new courses, is unparalleled in the nation. But did you know that Michigan also boasts more rail-trails - more than 700 miles of them - than any other state?

Coupled with the off-road trails Boyne and other resorts offer is the conversion of dormant railroad corridors into non-motorized pathways - a current trend that's practically keeping pace with the state's golf boom.

Golfers are discovering that biking takes in breathtaking scenery and a good, low-impact workout. Many bike trails are free to pedal; a few require a small fee.

So what's the best way to find the bike trail nearest to your golfing destination?

"I just like to stop into a bicycle store and ask where the good rides are and describe what I'm looking for," said Dale Phelps, an avid rider and owner of three Village Bike shops in the Grand Rapids area.

Stop by a Village Bike shop and there's a good chance Phelps will refer you to a variety of trails - from smooth, paved pathways to rugged single-tracks. He said riders should tune the excitement level or risk factor of a ride to their personality.

"There are definitely people who like to be aggressive," he said. "But I think the average population would like to go casually through the woods and enjoy the scenery."

A tour of some of the Michigan's best riding offerings - and some of the golf courses close by - starts in Southwest Michigan. Southwest Michigan

Phelps might direct intermediate riders to the Cannonsburg State Game Area trail just northeast of Grand Rapids. Or he'll send those looking for a truly challenging ride to Yankee Springs State Recreational Area a half-hour southwest of the city.

But one of the Grand Rapids area's most relaxing rides also deserves mention.

Kent Trails has drawn legions of bikers and walkers since it first opened for us in the mid-1980s. It's the creation of Kent County, one of the first municipalities to convert former railroad beds for recreational use.

The15-mile-long paved path runs south from John Ball Park in northwest Grand Rapids, meanders through the suburbs of Walker, Grandville and Wyoming, and ends at Douglas Walker Park near Byron Center.

The trail runs close to a number of public golf courses, including one of the best municipal courses in the state, L.E. Kaufman Golf Club in Wyoming.

Six units of government worked together for six years to get Kent Trails under way in the mid-1980s. The spirit of cooperation from various landowners, who have given easements to the project at no cost, has been a big plus for the path.

Riders can experience a variety of wetlands, forest scenery and vineyards along the 38-miles Kal-Haven Trail between South Haven and Kalamazoo. Thousands of Michigan cyclists have been introduced to this route each summer through the Detroit Free Press' Michigander tour. Its surface is suited for road bikes as well as mountain bikes.

Kal-Haven's eastern trailhead isn't far from U.S. 131 near Kalamazoo.

Cannonsburg State Game Area offers a fairly flat but twisting loop just east of Egypt Valley Road, practically within an earshot of Egypt Valley Country Club, home of the PGA Seniors First of America Classic. It's also close to an array of public courses, including Grand Rapids Golf Club on the city's northeast side.

Getting there: Take I-96 to Exit 38, then go north on East Beltline (M-44). Once you pass the Grand River, turn east on Cannonsburg Road, go about five miles and turn north on Egypt Valley Road. Turn east on Four Mile Road and go about a half-mile; the main parking lot is on the right side.

Yankee Springs, located in western Barry County, has no fewer than four public golf courses within 10 miles from its riding trails. Deep Lake Campground serves as the staging area for bikers. A vehicle permit is required most days.

Getting there: Take the Bradley exit east from U.S. 131 into Yankee Springs.

The Hart-Montague Trail begins 77 miles northwest of Grand Rapids in Hart. Maintained by the state, the 8-foot-wide paved path along an old railroad right of way offers peaceful riding despite occasional road crossings. The scenery varies from dense foliage along the trail to open asparagus fields to smalltown backyards. Southeast Michigan

Some of the state's best public courses can be found in suburban Detroit. So can some of its best riding trails.

The 11-mile-long Paint Creek Trailway meanders between Rochester and Lake Orion. Along the way, trail users cross twisting Paint Creek 13 times and pass through six parks and nature preserves. A cider mill is also part of the scenic ride.

To reach the trailhead, take the first traffic light west of Rochester on Walton. Head north and park near the river. On your bike, take the bridge over the river and stay to your right. The trail has no hills, just typical railroad grades.

Intermediate to advance riders are more inclined to visit the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area in Waterford. Be prepared for tough, jarring trails and downhills that will make you appreciate the importance of front-end bike shocks. Rocks are everywhere.

To get there, travel 11 miles west of the Pontiac Silverdome on M-59 to Williams Lake Road, then north to Gale Road, then left to the beach parking lot.

If you double the length of Pontiac Lake and replace the rocks with roots, you'd get the Potawatomi Trail System - or the "Poto" - at the Pinckney State Recreation Area near Hell (Michigan, that is). Its trails range from 1.9 to 17.5 miles round-trip in length.

The trailhead is located 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. From US 23, take North Territorial Road west about 10 miles to Dexter-Townhall Road. Turn north for 1.2 miles to Silver Hill Road. Bear left to the parking lot at Silver Lake Beach. Mid-Michigan

Another former railroad grade now popular among riders is the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, a linear park that extends from downtown Midland to Clare.

Currently the trail is fully paved for 21 miles, from Midland to Coleman, and supporters are trying to secure funds for extending its paved surface to Clare. The trailhead is situated in downtown Midland, at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers.

The Pine Haven Recreation Area in Sanford has trails are suitable for beginner and intermediate riders. It offers some steep to moderate terrain, and the area tends to be wet, particularly in the spring and after heavy rain.

To get there, exit off of US 10 onto West River Road. Go south to Maynard Road and turn right. Follow Maynard to the end.

Venturing northward, the Ogemaw Hills Pathway in West Branch has 15 miles of beginner to advanced trails. Terrain is fairly flat on beginner trails to moderately hilly and rolling on intermediate and advanced trails. A lookout loop features a beautiful view of the West Branch countryside.

The trailhead is located at the corner of Clear Lake Road and Fairview Road. Take I-75 to exit 212 (West Branch) and follow business loop I-75 to Fairview Road. Northwest Michigan

It's by no accident that some of the Midwest's best ski hills are also home to challenging mountain bike trails.

Boyne Mountain's cross country ski trails double as a challenging network of hilly loops for mountain biking. The trails begin at the Mountain's Activity Center by the base of its ski area, and extend west toward the resort's golf operation.

The Boyne Falls resort offers its guests mountain bike tour packages, complete with snacks and water during outings lasting an hour or two. Cannondale bikes, each with 23 speeds and front suspension, are available for rental at the Mountain.

"It's got a real big following and it's just something our guests are asking for, so we're certainly going to supply it," marketing manager Holly Gilmour said.

Boyne Mountain becomes the state's riding capital during two events organized by Fun Promotions: The 12 Hours of Boyne (July 25) and the Michigan State Championships (Oct. 10-11), where racers compete for over $6,000 in cash and prizes.

"The races only last an hour or two so the reality is they have a lot of time at the resort to enjoy the other amenities," noted Fun Promotions' Brent Walk.

The Mountain is expected to affix hooks on its ski lift chairs in time for the 1998 golf season, enabling riders to relax on the way up.

Shanty Creek near Bellaire has hosted the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) national championships. Most of the trail winds its way along the Schuss Mountain ski area, presenting riders with a grueling uphill start and a thrilling downhill finish, much of it through dense hardwoods.

In the Traverse City area, the VASA trail is revered almost as much for mountain biking as it is for cross country skiing. It includes a new 13.5-mile marked bike trail that's considered suitable for a wide range of riders.

To the official VASA trailhead, go a mile south of Acme on U.S 31 to Bunker Hill Road. Go 1.5 miles, turn right on Bartlett Road and follow the signs.

For a more relaxing ride, bikers can take in the spectacular sunsets along Little Traverse Bay along a paved path centered at Petoskey's Bayfront Park.

Known as the Little Traverse Wheelway, the path links up with a partly completed path along M-119 between Petoskey and Harbor Springs. Completion of this path would link the two resort communities for bikers. Upper Peninsula

Michigan's Upper Peninsula is bursting with off-road trails, one of the most intriguing of which covers the perimeter of Grand Island.

Situated just off shore from Munising in Lake Superior, Grand Island, a federal recreation area, is accessible by ferry from the mainland. Once there, riders can take in views of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore from the island's bluffs.

"Most of it I would term it advanced beginner or beginner intermediate," Phelps said. "You don't have to be in great shape and you don't have to have a killer mountain bike to do it. It's not difficult on rating scale, I would say. And the scenery is just outstanding." Road riding options

The Gaylord area may consider itself Michigan's golf mecca, but it also hosts some of the Midwest's top biathletes each May.

Road riders may want to try to the cycling leg of the Starker-Mann. Its route starts at Hidden Valley Resort, runs north on Morgan Road and east on Whitmarsh Road before returning to the resort.

"That's a great route for touring because it's so hilly and it's very scenic," said Paul Beachnau of the Gaylord Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's not for the beginner by any stretch. It's definitely intermediate to advanced because of the hillyness. But it's very scenic."

Harbor Springs is the starting point for possibly the prettiest 20-mile stretch of roadway in the Lower Peninsula. Dubbed the Tunnel of Trees, M-119 takes riders up to the quaint town of Cross Village is a must for riders who don't mind sharing the narrow road with motor vehicles.

Harbor Springs is home to two century-old golf club: Harbor Point and Wequetonsing. Harbor Point offers some public play; Wequetonsing is private.

In the Upper Peninsula, one road that rivals the Tunnel of Trees is the 9.5-mile Brockway Mountain Drive between Eagle River and Copper Harbor. A county park serves as a midway resting point and a lookout point for this Keweenaw Peninsula ride.

Wearing a helmet is a must regardless of where one pedals. And Phelps urges those who ride along roads to be selective over where and when they travel.

"I think you need to let common sense be your guide," he said. "If you think about it and you know your terrain and your area, you can find wonderful places for road riding."

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