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Study evaluates impacts adjacent to Michigan rail trail

From "Kent County Adjacent Businesses and Residential Landowners' Attitudes Towards and Use of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park in Michigan." Download complete study (pdf 1 MB).

Prepared by: Kristen Steger, Christine Vogt, Ph.D. and Charles Nelson, Ph.D.
Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University, 2000

Map of Michigan


The White Pine State Park Trail (WPT) is a 92-mile rail-trail from White Cap Stadium in Comstock Park north to Cadillac. From its southern terminus for the first 13 miles north to Russell Road in northern Kent County, the WPT is paved and open only to non-motorized uses, except horseback riding. North of Russell Road to Cadillac, the WPT is gravel and open to non-motorized uses (including equestrian) as well as winter snowmobiling.

Currently, the trail is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with assistance from the non-profit Friends of the White Pine Trail. There are no trail user fees, except those for snowmobile trail permits. Monies for acquisition and development came from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and operations funding from Michigan State Park dedicated funds and snowmobile permits and gasoline sales taxes.

"Only 2% of businesses and 1% of residents believe the trail has a negative influence on the community."

Executive Summary

The purpose of studying adjacent businesses and residents of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park (hereafter WPT) was to evaluate the knowledge, usage, support, influence and opinions of the rail-trail by those who live and work next to the trail on a daily basis.

All adjacent business and resident owners of the WPT in Kent County were initially mailed a questionnaire on July 11, 2006. The list of businesses and residents was obtained from the county tax assessor's office in June 2006. Businesses were mailed a three-page questionnaire and residents a seven-page questionnaire. Businesses and residents also received a letter and business reply envelope with a survey. Reminder postcards, sent two weeks after the initial mailing, and a second mailing of the survey sent on August 7, 2006 were used to encourage participation of non-respondents.

Forty-eight of the 92 businesses (52.2%) and 187 of the 288 residential landowners (64.9%) completed the questionnaire.

Important findings include:

  • The most common type of business found adjacent to the WPT was consumer services or retail (48%). Businesses employed up to 130 full-time employees and 20 part-time employees. Over two-thirds of the businesses state their building/structure was adjacent or right next to the trail. Businesses were an average of 50 yards away from the rail-trail and have been at their location for an average of 18 years.
  • Resident homes/structures were on average 60 yards away from the rail-trail and were predominantly residential homes. On average residents have lived in their home for 13 years and most (55%) have a full view of the trail in the summer. Three out of five residents purchased their home before the trail was built and are adjacent or right next to the trail (96%). Most households have two adults (58%) but sixty-four percent have no children while thirty-six percent have one or more children. Of the respondents who gave pre-tax income information thirty-four percent earned $60,000 or more while thirty-one percent earned less than $60,000, even though fifty-five percent of respondents were employed full-time and fifty-three percent had some college or a college diploma.
  • Businesses reported they were less informed about the design and construction of the rail-trail compared to residents. Twenty-four percent of businesses considered themselves fully or moderately informed compared to thirty percent of residents. There was more involvement in planning meetings for the WPT by residents compared to businesses. Businesses and residents were equally involved in the planning, development and maintenance of the rail-trail, as well as being current members of the Friends of the White Pine Trail group.
  • Fifty-six percent of businesses and 51% of residents were supportive of the idea of the rail-trail before it was built. Slightly more than a third of businesses and adjacent residents were supportive during planning and construction, however businesses and residents were more likely to have a neutral opinion during planning. Today with the trail in operation for a decade, 67% of adjacent businesses and 76% of adjacent residents are in support of the trail with 9% of businesses opposed to the trail and 7% of the adjacent residents.
  • Fifty-four percent of businesses had one or more employees who used the WPT before, during breaks or after work for walking, biking, running, snowmobiling or general recreation. Eighty-five percent of residential respondents indicated that at least one person in their household uses the White Pine Trail. Most respondents used the trail for exercise, fun and enjoyment, and to be outside. More than half of the households adjacent to the trail had at least one person using the rail-trail daily or weekly.
  • Eight in ten adjacent businesses and residents believe the WPT has a positive influence on the community and Kent County as a whole, while only 2% of businesses and 1% of residents believe the trail has a negative influence on the community and Kent County.
  • Forty-seven percent of businesses believe the trail is a positive influence on their employees and two-thirds of residents feel it is a positive influence on their household. Conversely, 2% of businesses believe the trail is a negative influence on their employees and 7% of residents believe the trail is a negative influence on their household.
  • Sixty-nine percent of residents rated the removal of trash from containers was good or very good. Similarly, 75% indicated lack of litter along the trail and 70% indicated that the removal of trash from litter barrels was good or very good.
  • Adjacent residents were less satisfied with other attributes. Less than half (45%) rated their sense of safety and security as good or very good and 50% rated their privacy as good or very good.
  • The majority of residents (72%) stated that the WPT has increased recreation opportunities, 68% health and fitness, 68% their personal enjoyment and 65% their community pride.
  • Major management challenges for the WPT due to a lack of operations funding are precipitated by the lack of revenue to Michigan State Parks from non-motorized trail users and the elimination of general fund appropriations by the legislature to Michigan State Parks.

Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1222 -

Funding provided by: Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and MSU Extension

September 2006

Download complete study (pdf 1 MB)


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