Within months of approval by the City Council in September, the Library-Brecon trail has been completed, extending a connection for non-motorized transportation from N. Ann Arbor Street to Maple Road. However the history of this trail goes back more than a century.
During the Civil War era the people of Saline wanted a railroad to transport farm produce, both to the armies and to other markets. It would also carry passengers.
“They were desperate to get a railroad,” said Bob Lane, curator of the Depot Museum.
The Village of Saline invested $75,000 in the Detroit, Hillsdale and Indiana Railroad, which laid track through Saline from Ypsilanti to Bankers in 1868. The Saline Depot, a part of the old grain elevator (now Sammi’s Hair Station) and some tracks are all that remain of this line in Saline.
“When we first moved here, we could walk along the tracks, well, as far as you wanted to go, said Mary Lirones of Saline. “We usually went to Dell Road and then came back home.”
The railroad went through bankruptcy and changed names several times. The Depot was closed in 1961 and train traffic ceased for good in the early 80s. Ann Arbor Railroad now owns the right of way.
From rail to trail
About nine years ago, some people in Saline began talking about what might be done with this land.
“There was a concept plan put together to do a rail-to-trail conversion so the bulk of the pathway ran right along the old railroad tracks,” said Jeff Fordice, Saline Director of Public Works. “That plan was met with a lot of resistance from residents in the mobile home community and along Park Place.”
The original concept proposed extending the trail from Maple Road west to Mill Pond Park, generating further resistance from the Saline River Road neighborhood. Fears of people on personal property and the glare from proposed trail lighting drove the opposition. Funding and acquiring the use of railroad property were additional issues.
The plan failed, but interest in a trail persisted. Through the advocacy of Saline councilman David Rhodes, the short Depot Trail was opened in September 2006, extending along the tracks from N. Ann Arbor Street to N. Harris Street.
Eventually, Mayor Gretchen Driskell found that a state grant program called Building Healthy Communities was available to develop a comprehensive non-motorized transportation plan for the city. This plan, a prioritized wish list of trails, was developed and approved by City Council in 2009.
In the meantime, the Saline District Library had been considering ways to extend its network of nature trails. They had already enhanced a crude connecting path that had been made from their 1100 feet of woodchip trails to Brecon Park. They envisioned a trail all the way to Ann Arbor Street.
These ideas were presented by Leslee Neithammer, director of the library, at a meeting of city officials in July 2010. At the meeting, Fordice asked her to consider a wider hard-surface trail that would be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.
When it became clear that additional funding should be available for such a trail, the choice was obvious. “Absolutely,” Neithammer said. “Yes!”
Funding the trail
A patchwork of funding sources was assembled by then city finance director, Lee Bourgoin. A grant of $20,000 was obtained through CARES and $60,000 through a Washtenaw County Parks Commission, Connecting Communities Grant. More money was obtained through a Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA).
Unlike the previous plan, only a small section of the trail from Maple to N. Harris would be on railroad property. The city or the library already owned most of the land.
Most of the details were worked out by the spring of 2011. However in June of 2011 the plan hit a snag.
“What happened was the city needed to use the TIFA money to repair streets,” Neithammer said. “So the whole project came to a halt.”
Nevertheless this hitch and other details were resolved, so that in August 2012 the project was put out for bids. On September 10, 2012, the City Council approved a bid from Pavex to build the path for $201,481.02. Work began October 8.
The new trail is 8–10 feet wide and paved with asphalt. It will accommodate walkers, wheelchairs, bikes and in-line skaters.
“None of the money is being paid out of the general fund,” said Todd Campbell, Saline City Manager.
A local success story
Mayor-elect Brian Marl feels that the joint partnership of the city with the library is a model for future projects.
“When we have big projects we should seek out new opportunities and other partners to help bring those projects to fruition,” Marl said.
But why was the library so interested in walking trails?
“One of our missions is to be a community gathering place,” said Neithammer. “To that end, we are always looking to make our library accessible, pleasant to be at, a place people want to come to.”
The trail is already becoming popular with walkers. Kirk Bowen of Saline with his dog, Missy, had been walking this route even before the paved trail was built.
While he said he will miss the seclusion of the old dirt path, he now sees many people with dogs using the new trail. He is glad that these people and bicyclists now have a trail they can use.
The trail also fits in to a regional plan for non-motorized transportation.
“You can actually walk from N. Ann Arbor road along the Depot Trail connecting to the Brecon Library Trail, then take a system of sidewalks up Maple to Woodland to Textile and then at Textile it hooks into the Pittsfield Path that goes eastbound along Textile to Lohr and take Lohr all the way up to Ellsworth,” Campbell said.