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$250,000 from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System will expand bike, walking trail in Washtenaw County

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Area bicyclists and walkers may have found their patron saint. St. Joseph Mercy Health System (SJMHS) has committed to help finish a looped bike and pedestrian trail across western Washtenaw County.

The trail, which will connect to the statewide Iron Belle Trail at Dexter Chelsea, is made possible by SJMHS’s $125,000 pledge, along with the additional $125,000 in matching funds. All of the dollars go to completion of the trail.

Called “The Loop,” the building of the trail, which links Border-2-Border with and the Lakelands trail section, was led by the Huron Waterloo Pathway Initiative (HWPI). All 44 miles of bike path are a continuous loop. Once it is finished it will connect Chelsea, Dexter, Pinckney, and Waterloo with the States Iron Belle System.

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Lest you think this is too far away to matter to Detroiters, consider this. You aren’t far from the trail and neither are four million Michigan residents. Nearly 50% of the state’s population will be at most an hour drive from The Loop.

The first leg of construction will begin in early spring 2017 with a 4.7 link mile section from Chelsea to North Territorial Road which links the Waterloo and Pinckney State Recreation areas, Green Lake Campground, the W.P. State Hiking Trail and Waterloo Mountain Bike Trail System, if the monetary goals are met.

Within the sweet spot between Lansing and Ann Arbor, the Loop will include the Border-2-Border Trail of the Washtenaw Country Parks System, the Dexter to Chelsea Connector, the Chelsea to Stockbridge connector via the M52 corridor, Waterloo/Pinckney recreation areas and Lakeland’s State Trail which runs from Stockbridge to Pinckney and connects to the Border-2-Border trail.

Those who walk, run, or bike trail will have a diverse route, which includes both thriving downtown areas that help local business to the more natural beauty of farmland, woods, river/streams and small towns.

“St. Joe’s donation represents significant support from the local community for this regional trail system,” says Jeff Hardcastle, board chair of HWPI, a private advocacy group formed by local residents in western Washtenaw County to move this project forward.

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Earlier this year St. Joe’s launched its wellness initiative “Join Me” to improve the health and wellness of those who live in our state. Lunch meetings were held in local communities to find out what residents thought was important to improve their health and wellness. The answer was access to safe, walkable trails that provide recreational options for themselves and their families.

“As one of the major health systems in southeast Michigan, St. Joe’s wants to help communities stay well by encouraging fitness and an active lifestyle,” said Rob Casalou, regional president and CEO, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. “We want to provide a significant boost to this initiative to show our enthusiasm for this effort that will create opportunities for people across the state to move and be active.”

Walking or biking those trails could help reduce the high rate of obesity in that area. According to the 2015 Health Improvement Plan Washtenaw County health survey,  58% of those surveyed in the Chelsea/Dexter area either overweight or obese and half of them not meeting the aerobic recommendations for physical activity.

The trail seemed like a perfect place for them to lend a hand.

Another problem lurks in the area. Many of its inhabitants are 65 or older, which can lead to social exclusion, another risk to public health.

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“The Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative has the ability to positively impact this social determinant of health by building a new connection between neighbors, businesses and community gathering places, creating a more inclusive, social environment for residents,” says St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea President and CEO Nancy Graebner.

With access to healthy recreation to so many, it is hoped more Michiganders will take advantage of the loop.  That could increase the overall wellness of our state.

More dollars are needed to finish the trail. In addition to seeking $1 million in private donations, the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative HWPI is currently applying for grants through MDOT and DNR to raise funds for this $10-12 million project. HWPI will oversee the development and assist in management of the trail once it is complete.

For more information or to donate, visit http://hwpathways.org/.

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