2017-09-21 / Front Page

New Life For Old Railroad Grade

By Kevin R. Hess


Michigan State University Extension Educator Brad Neumann (front, left) listens to feedback from members of the public on the first draft conceptual plan for improvements to the railroad pathway from Spring Street to Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace. Attendees were given sticky notes and asked to provide feedback on the potential improvement plans. Michigan State University Extension Educator Brad Neumann (front, left) listens to feedback from members of the public on the first draft conceptual plan for improvements to the railroad pathway from Spring Street to Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace. Attendees were given sticky notes and asked to provide feedback on the potential improvement plans. Approximately 40 residents and business owners of St. Ignace were in attendance at Little Bear East Arena Tuesday, September 12, to hear and see the potential plans for the railroad grade, which runs from Spring Street to the arena. The pathway is often used as a snowmobile, ATV, and ORV trail, but St. Ignace is exploring how they can improve the pathway and expand its use. Ideas for improvement may include adding benches, landscaping, and improving the connection to the downtown area. Adding artwork, railroad artifacts, and keeping a railroad theme throughout the pathway are other ideas that could be developed.


Bekka Litzner reads comments from attendees of the public feedback session on potential improvements to the railroad pathway in St. Ignace. Members of the Sustainable Built Environment Initiative team, from Michigan State University and MSU Extension, were on hand to present a draft conceptual plan based upon feedback they received from their first visioning session in June. On this wall, images were taken of different sections of the pathway as it is currently, and then those same images were overlaid with potential changes to give the public a picture of what it could look like. Attendees were then given the opportunity to comment on what they liked or concerns they had, using sticky notes. The project team will record the comments and make adjustments to the conceptual plan to be presented at another public session in late fall or winter. Bekka Litzner reads comments from attendees of the public feedback session on potential improvements to the railroad pathway in St. Ignace. Members of the Sustainable Built Environment Initiative team, from Michigan State University and MSU Extension, were on hand to present a draft conceptual plan based upon feedback they received from their first visioning session in June. On this wall, images were taken of different sections of the pathway as it is currently, and then those same images were overlaid with potential changes to give the public a picture of what it could look like. Attendees were then given the opportunity to comment on what they liked or concerns they had, using sticky notes. The project team will record the comments and make adjustments to the conceptual plan to be presented at another public session in late fall or winter. Michigan State University’s Sustainable Built Environment Initiative (SBEI), in connection with Michigan State University’s School of Planning, Design and Construction and MSU Extension, leads the project. Warren Rauhe, an MSU professor, and MSU Extension Educator Brad Neumann, led the meeting. St. Ignace applied for and was accepted to work with this program in April. The SBEI assists communities to address physical planning, design, and land use issues. It offers a visioning process that provides community members with images and recommendations to guide improvements. A main goal of the project is to develop a more user friendly recreation corridor, and incorporate non-motorized transportation such as bicycles. Accommodating slow-moving and non-motorized traffic, beautifying the area, and highlighting St. Ignace’s history were among the thoughts that went into the proposed plan. The SBEI work costs $7,500, with $5,000 paid through a grant from the St. Ignace Community Foundation and the other $2,500 raised by the St. Ignace Planning Commission.


While one wall was filled with images of St. Ignace’s pathway overlaid with potential improvements, another wall was filled with images from other cities and towns with similar pathways. Those were provided to give the public ideas for improving St. Ignace by seeing what other areas have done. While one wall was filled with images of St. Ignace’s pathway overlaid with potential improvements, another wall was filled with images from other cities and towns with similar pathways. Those were provided to give the public ideas for improving St. Ignace by seeing what other areas have done. 
Here is a copy of the draft conceptual plan presented at the public feedback session for the railroad pathway that runs from Spring Street to Little Bear East. The plan is marked with potential walkways, bike paths, vehicle traffic, and amenities. Images were provided of specific sections of the pathway, overlaid with potential improvements. The goal of the project is to better use the railroad grade, provide more and safer places for non-motorized traffic, and to connect the pathway to the downtown area. Approximately 40 members of the public were on hand to hear and see the presentation, hosted at Little Bear East Tuesday, September 12. Here is a copy of the draft conceptual plan presented at the public feedback session for the railroad pathway that runs from Spring Street to Little Bear East. The plan is marked with potential walkways, bike paths, vehicle traffic, and amenities. Images were provided of specific sections of the pathway, overlaid with potential improvements. The goal of the project is to better use the railroad grade, provide more and safer places for non-motorized traffic, and to connect the pathway to the downtown area. Approximately 40 members of the public were on hand to hear and see the presentation, hosted at Little Bear East Tuesday, September 12. The process began June 14 with the first visioning session, where approximately 20 people offered comments on the positives and negatives of the current use of the railroad grade. Attendees were asked three questions about the project site. The first question focused on the areas positive characteristics. Citizens were proud of the lake views and natural beauty, the history of the area, the connection to the downtown area, and a relaxed atmosphere. The second question focused on some of the perceived negatives of the area. Participants mentioned lack of an overall vision, the conflict in uses, uninviting sights and smells, the lack of attractions, the poor condition of some lots, and the dirt road. The third question asked participants to think of what they would like to see in those areas. Participants wanted to see more people, a better connection to the waterfront and boardwalk, more attractions, beautification, businesses integrated with the pathway such as cafes and small shops, and safety for all modes of transportation. SBEI team members then took the feedback and developed a rough plan of what the pathway could look like and presented them to the public at this second session.

Professor Rauhe presented three sets of images to those in attendance. He said they wanted to turn the peoples’ words into pictures to help them know how and where to start. He encouraged the attendees to think long term, big picture, and take one step at a time.

“Think about this process as you are implementing other changes, such as at St. Anthony’s Rock or at Little Bear,” he said. “Break it into pieces and think one step at a time.”

One set of pictures showed other communities and what they have done with similar pathways. Images included community consignment artwork, landscaping, food trucks, and pathway designs. A second set of pictures took actual images from the railroad grade and overlaid potential changes onto them. Partici- pants got to see images of the areas as they are currently, and then what they could potentially look like. SBEI created the images based upon the feedback they received in the first visioning session. Finally, a draft conceptual plan was presented that showed attendees a big picture of how everything connected with downtown St. Ignace. Following the presentation, attendees were given sticky notes to use to offer feedback – positive or negative – on the images that had been taped to several different walls in the Little Bear East Conference Center. The project team will record all of the responses and plan one more public feedback session this coming fall or winter. By spring 2018, they hope to begin to initiate an implementation plan.

The theme of the design plan was “Celebrating Heritage.” Professor Rauhe said it was clear that the heritage of St. Ignace was important to people and his team believes it was important to highlight that fact. Some of the design ideas included pathways with railroad track designs, a train car that people could walk through, a roundhouse with an engine inside of it, and an app that would take people on a historic walking tour. The design took into account the desire for beautification, multiple modes of transport, and St. Ignace history. The SBEI team broke down the plan block-by-block and sectionby section to give attendees an opportunity to visualize the project. Many of those in attendance were impressed with the design plan.

“I thought the presentation was great,” said Ann Hart. “It was very clear, and the design accommodates everyone. Breaking down the plan block by block made the project seem very doable.”

She was also felt that that the project team listened to the comments at the first meeting and implemented them into the design.

“I’m impressed and touched that they heard us the first time and realized how important our heritage is to us,” she said.

Diggy Clement appreciated all of the pictures and said it was nice to see the ideas turned into concrete images.

“I’m excited to see the possibilities,” she said.

Many of the comments placed on the pictures were positive and expressed excitement for the potential improvements. Some of the most common comments praised the addition of benches, the visual appeal of landscaping, the increased useable space, and the connection to the downtown area. Many also liked the idea of adding artwork, railroad artifacts, and keeping a railroad theme throughout the pathway. Others offered additional improvements such as bike racks, installation of Wi-Fi, water fountains, a dog park, an event stage, adding lighting for nighttime activity, and the repurposing of old buildings.

One business owner expressed concerns of lack of parking for employees of downtown businesses or the residents who use that pathway for parking. Another commenter said that with increased traffic on the pathway, speed deterrents such as rumble strips or speed bumps should be considered, especially in areas where there are steep hills. One comment said that instead of making “pretty walkways,” the focus should be on renovating the lakeshore boardwalk.

Overall, the response was positive and attendees seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of improving the railroad grade. One citizen said that it was nice to see several younger adults at the session showing interest in the direction of the community. Professor Rauhe said he, too, felt the meeting was a positive one. Their group is currently recording all of the comments they received and will soon review them and adjust their plans accordingly before the next public meeting.

For people who were unable to attend the meeting, the presentation, including all of the photographs, is available on The St. Ignace News website at www.stignacenews.com. The presentation can be found in the “documents” tab under “services,” titled, “Railroad Recreation Pathway.” Any additional comments can be sent to Professor Rauhe at rauhe@msu.edu or Mr. Neumann at neuman36@msu.edu.

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