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Featured national recreation trail

Paint Creek Trail, Oakland County, Michigan

A popular community trail through natural areas in southeast Michigan.

From Paint Creek Trailways Commission

Map of Michigan

Paint Creek Trail, the first rail to trail in the State of Michigan, was acquired in 1983 from the former Penn Central Railroad for $450,000. The 8.9 mile Trail follows the Paint Creek as it meanders through fields, prairies, woodlands and marshlands. The Paint Creek is the major remaining cold water designated trout stream in the Detroit area, around which many game and non-game birds, frogs, snakes and toads make their home. A naturalized corridor, the Trail is home to fox, squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, quail, pheasant and forest birds. White tail deer are frequently observed in early morning or at dusk.

Photo of trail
Crushed limestone surfacing on the Paint Creek Trail

The Trail is owned and operated by the Paint Creek Trailways Commission, an intergovernmental agency comprised of representatives from Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township and Orion Township. The Commission was formed in 1981 under the Urban Cooperation Act of 1967, and has been a model of success in Michigan for other Trail management agencies.

The Commission follows several cost management strategies. Each community contributes equal amounts to the operational budget, and provides unique in-kind services, including sign making, engineering, office space and payroll services, and meeting locations. The Commission also uses a license agreement policy with utility companies, instead of granting easements. This generates over $9,000 in revenue annually, while protecting the ownership and use of the Trail right of way.

The non-motorized Trail was developed with a crushed limestone surface in 1990. Crushed limestone was chosen over asphalt to help maintain the natural setting. It was also chosen because of the close proximity to the Paint Creek. The Trailways Commission wanted to protect the Creek from the oil-based runoff from the asphalt. The original surface lasted until 2004.

Photo of trail bridge
 

In November 2004, the trail was resurfaced with limestone, erosion areas were repaired, and an additional 1/2 mile of trail was developed and surfaced at our northern terminus. This 8 ft wide, all weather surface makes it ideal for many activities, including hiking, biking, walking, skiing, and horse riding. Wooden bollards are located at trail crossings to prevent vehicles and ATV's from entering the trail.

The Paint Creek Trail serves a local population of over 128,000 people. As such, in 2004, Michigan State University, with cooperation from the Michigan Department of Transportation's Non-Motorized Enhancement Program, conducted a Trail User Survey along the Paint Creek Trail.

Photo of lupine flowers
The prairie site is home to wild lupine and other native plants

The survey found that the trail had over 66,420 estimated uses from May 1 to September 30, 2004, with 56% of those on weekdays and 44% on weekends. Of the adults surveyed, 56% utilzed the trail for bicycling, while 44% were walking or running. 90% of the uses were by Oakland County residents or workers.

Survey data suggests the primary purpose for most Trail uses was either for normal exercise (48%) or recreation (37%). The survey covered a five month period; it is our belief that our yearly user count surpasses 100,000 when the busy spring and popular fall color seasons are factored in.

The Paint Creek Trailways Commission has partnered with many diverse groups and organizations. We partner with Hiking Michigan for our annual National Trails Day events, as well as local environmental, historical, health, and governmental organizations. Our trail is also an integral part of the extensive Oakland Trail Network which will include 212 miles of trail when completed. Our Trail connects with the Clinton River Trail and Macomb Orchard Trail via the Rochester River Walk.

Photo of Pain Creek Trail sign
 

The Paint Creek Trail also extends through Bald Mountain Recreation Area, a 4,637 acre state park with an extensive trail system. Our next connection will be to our north with the 35 mile Polly Ann Trail. Through the Oakland Trail Network, we have become actively involved In the Healthy People Healthy Oakland initiative. The Trailways Commission has also supported and encouraged the participation in the Walk Michigan, Walk Oakland program hosted by Oakland County Parks in conjunction with the Michigan Recreation and Park Association.

In 1999, the Paint Creek Trail became the physical representative of Michigan's Millennium Legacy Trail. With that honor, the Trailways Commission received several Federal, State and local grants for the Paint Creek Trail Prairie Restoration Project.

Photo of burning grass
Prairie restoration along the Paint Creek Trail

As part of the project, the Commission partnered with the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Commission to restore a 1.3 acre natural Prairie along the the Trail. Our prairie site is home to many native species, including Big Blue Stem and Wild Lupine. The prairie restoration process was documented on a 30 minute DVD titled "A Prairie in Michigan: Prairie Restoration Along the Paint Creek Trail." The Commission also produced a 12 minute educational version to be used by middle school science classes and by environmental centers. Both are available free to the public.

Lastly, the Commission chose an artist to create a Prairie Restoration Art Project. This gazebo style structure surrounds a copper Bur Oak sculpture and is accessible to all trail users.

Photo of deer crossing trail
A white tail deer crossing the trail

Along with the outstanding natural and cultural resources along the Trail, the Trail is home to many historic resources. Historians believe that the Native Americans were active in the area and followed the Paint Creek to create a transportation corridor.

Within a short walk from the trail, the Paint Creek and Goodison Cider Mills, as well as the Mill Race Historic Marker, are located in the unincorporated Village of Goodison. In Orion Township, the Carpenter-Rudd Mill Site abuts the trail and Bald Mountain Recreation Area. The area around the midpoint of the Trail is also home to many historic homes and buildings that are part of the local Historic District Commission.

The Paint Creek Trail is an asset to Oakland County and southeast Michigan. With it's many recreational opportunities, historic and cultural resources, and commitment to the environment, the Paint Creek Trail is a model for trail planning and development and is a "Trail for All Americans."

For more information on The Paint Creek Trail:

Paint Creek Trailways Commission
4393 Collins Road
Rochester, Michigan 48307
(248) 651-9260
PaintCreekTrail@aol.com
www.paintcreektrail.org

The National Recreation Trails Program
American Trails, P.O. Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797 (530) 547-2060 Fax: (530) 547-2035 nrt@americantrails.org www.AmericanTrails.org

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Photo of smiling bicyclist
Great Allegheny Passage (photo by Mary Shaw)

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