Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail receives funding toward next stop

Published 1:13 pm Monday, August 10, 2020

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — The Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail may be getting its next stop added within the next few years.

On Aug. 3, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer authorized $28.7 million for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grants. For Berrien County residents, $300,000 will go to Berrien Township to make improvements to Range Line Park. The park is hoped to be the next stop in the Indiana-Michigan River Valley trail that currently connects Mishawaka to Niles. The trail would extend north to Berrien Springs.

“There’s a lot of improvements that are going to be made,” said Marcy Hamilton, senior planner with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. “General landscaping and fencing. The parking lot is going to be improved [Park] pavilions are going to be enclosed and include nice restrooms. There will be extra picnic tables and new playground equipment.”

The $430,000 total initiative for Berrien Township’s plan for the park is adding bike racks, drinking fountains, benches and an observation deck overlooking the St. Joseph River. The initiative for the park’s improvement will be nearly 70 percent funded by the grant.

“At this point, it is conceptual,” Hamilton said. “The Be Healthy Berrien and Berrien County Health Department has some funding from another grant that we are working on with them.”

The SWMPC has engaged with Wightman, an engineering consulting firm in Benton Harbor, to work on plans moving forward with the trail.

The Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail currently connects from the downtown Mishawaka Riverwalk to Plym Park in Niles, spanning 17-miles through two states and four city centers including Niles, Roseland, South Bend and Mishawaka.

The statewide grant program funding the next stop on the trail’s improvement, Range Line Park in Berrien Springs, is part of a trust fund put in place by Michigan voters in 1984.

“Royalties and land lease payments from fossil fuel companies fund the trust fund,” said Beau Brockett Jr., communications specialist for Michigan Environmental Council. “The trust fund’s investments also generate money. Voters have expanded the trust fund through further ballot proposals, namely raising its cap and its investment breadth.”

According to Brockett, the two types of projects the trust fund is used for include public land acquisition and public land development. The Range Line Trailhead Development Project fits the criteria to qualify for the grant.

Hamilton has personally seen more people using trails and enjoying nature during the COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our commission does a lot of assisting in recreational planning and trail planning. It’s always been important to us,” she said. “We’ve definitely seen more interest from more folks recently. Hopefully, that will lead to us taking this [park improvement and trail creation] forward quicker.”

Over the next couple of years, the SWMPC will work on connecting downtown Niles to downtown Berrien Springs.

“Once we get that connection up to Berrien Springs, not only just for recreation — but for economic and community development — it’s going to be a great thing,” Hamilton said. “We’re excited about it.”