In January of 2020, we were awarded a $150,000 DNR Recreational Passport grant to resurface the BVT along Crystal Lake. The Friends raised the required $50,000 in matching funds, but due to several factors, the project was delayed until this year.

Today, the Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail are pleased to announce that the resurfacing work is expected to begin in early May and should be completed prior to Memorial Day weekend!

Key players in the project met last week at the Beulah Visitor’s Center to finalize work plans. Pictured below, seated is Tyler Sprague, landscape architect from Johnson-Hill, a leading landscape architecture firm in Ann Arbor hired to assess the current condition of the trail and design the improvements. In the orange jacket is Jeff Cockfield, professional engineer who is working with Johnson-Hill to oversee the work. Crockfield is the founder of Grand Traverse Engineering LLC in Traverse City.  Addressing the group is associate project manager and former Trail Care Coordinator, John Rothhaar. Looking on from left to right is Charlie Gregory, Trail Care Coordinator and Janelle & AJ Zirkel of AJ’s Excavating. Not pictured is David Oellerich, the manager of the project and former President of the Betsie Valley Trailway Management Council.

“I’m very pleased and gratified that this improvement project is finally being completed,” commented John Rothhaar. “The Crystal Lake segment of the trail along Crystal Avenue has needed significant attention for many years, and the process of planning, obtaining approvals, and lining up funding took much longer than we might have hoped. The improved trail surface should make for a much better experience for trail users and encourage them to use the trail rather than the street, which, along with the improved appearance, should be a benefit to landowners along the trail, as well.”

Local Contractor AJ’s Excavating Awarded Contract

Everyone associated with the project was happy to see the job was awarded to local contractor, AJ’s Excavating, who has performed work along the trail in the past. Owner, AJ Zirkel, took a few minutes to share his excitement about submitting the winning bid and his outlook for the upcoming project in the video interview below.

“The job is basically reconstructing approximately two miles of trail,” commented Zirkel. “The existing trail has a lot of erosion issues, and sand and grass that has grown up on over the years, so it’s not very firm anymore. We’re going to scrape off the top layer, haul that away, and then replace it with 31-A Special, which is basically crushed limestone and limestone dust that packs up really well.”

“We were pretty excited to get the contract,” exclaimed Zirkel, “As a Benzie County native, it’s close to home for us, and we’d like to do this type of work. We are looking forward to the start of the project which is planned for the first week of May. And weather permitting, it should take about two weeks to complete, so when people get back for the summer the trail will be in good shape for bikes.”

Repairs and Resurfacing Not without Long-term Concerns

“We’re looking forward to a completely resurfaced trail for all to enjoy, but there are some practical concerns that we will continue to monitor,” cautioned project manager, David Oellerich. “Some potential issues include runoff of stormwater and how best to protect an unpaved trail without causing problems for landowners, proximity of trail to the street, and damage from vehicles, especially snowplows.”

“The narrow street and lack of parking at some parcels makes the trail an easy parking spot,” Oellerich continued, “And some landowner practices such as allowing beach sand to accumulate immediately adjacent to the trail can create significant safety or maintenance issues.”

Cooperation and Support of Adjacent Landowners Key

This section of the trail is under a long-time agreement with adjacent landowners that has special provisions related to various aspects of the trail. The Crystal Lake Property Rights Association (CLPRA) is represented on the Betsie Valley Trailway Management Council and has been working to help facilitate this project.

John Wheeler, President of CLPRA, expressed his group’s enthusiasm for the project, “Crystal Lake property owners look forward to the trail renovation along Crystal Avenue, which is needed and welcome to improve the safety of trail users and enhance the trail experience. The Crystal Lake Property Rights Association has, for years, sought to have that part of the trail improved, and is very pleased to be working with the Friends, the County, the Michigan DNR, and others to help make it happen.”

The Friends of the Trail have been working with CLPRA to look for ways to better engage the residents along Crystal Avenue in order to keep them informed of the planned work and to provide information about how they can do their part to help preserve the trail along their property. These residents have been invited by the two groups to attend an informational ‘Trail Talk’ on Saturday, May 15th at 9:30AM at Grow Benzie. Crystal Avenue residents are asked to R.S.V.P. to if they plan to attend.