Sister Lakes bike, walking trail in development

SISTER LAKES — A local nonprofit organization is working on a plan that will bring Sister Lakes and its surrounding communities together.

The Sister Lakes Corridor Improvement Authority is raising funds to create a road shoulder bike and walking trail through Sister Lakes that would make for safe travel to and from the local businesses.

“The Sister Lakes area gets very congested in the summertime,” said Sister Lakes CIA board member Rodney Pletz. “This community has a long history as a resort town. This bike path will provide people with a safe lane for walking and biking.”

Founded in 2010, the Sister Lakes CIA is a nine-member organization composed of Sister Lakes residents and business owners that exists to make the public and private improvements necessary to prevent, or correct deterioration in the business district and encourage new business investment.

The CIA is partnering with the Sister Lakes Lion’s Club to establish a trail head on 95th Avenue, complete with a parking lot and pavilion. The trail will start there and go west to CR 690 and then north to M-152. Pletz and the CIA are working with Keeler Township and various road commissions to have the trail run east on M-152 to CR 342 and connect to the trail up CR 687 and into Hartford.

From Hartford, the trail connects to the Van Buren Trail and Paw Paw Trail. Eventually, Pletz would like the trail to connect to the Silver Creek Township Trail, which would allow access from Sister Lakes to the Dowagiac area.

“Being a road shoulder trail, the Van Buren County Road Commission has a stake in this,” Pletz said. “There is a section of 95th that has a water level drain between the Crooked Lakes. That drain will need to be replaced and the road widened. The Drain Commission is involved. The DNR is involved, and the Department of Transportation is involved.

“There is a lot of coordination involved to get this plan solidified and money secured to start construction.”

The bike and walking trail is a passion project for Pletz, a lifelong Sister Lakes community member who wants to see his community thrive.

“For me it’s the people,” he said. “It’s a small community where everyone has a shared love for the lakes and the solitude. In the summer, we get folks from out of town that come in. They love the area and keep it safe. The lake atmosphere is wonderful.”

For 10 years, the CIA has been raising money to bring the bike path project to life. The Sister Lakes Triathlon, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic, was one of the organization’s first fundraising projects for the bike path. The CIA currently produces visitor maps for the Sister Lakes area, which Pletz says are iconic in the community. The organization generates funds from local businesses’ advertisements on the map.

The CIA is also selling donation bricks that will be placed along the outer edges of the pavilion. More information including the project’s feasibility study can be found on the organization’s website sisterlakescia.org.

“People who love the area can buy a brick and we’ll put it there, where it will remain forever,” Pletz said.

The organization hired engineering firm Land and Resource Engineering earlier this year to begin preparations for the project. According to Pletz, the CIA will have a meeting with MDOT regarding its Transportation Alternatives Program, a competitive grant program that uses federal transportation funds designated by Congress for specific activities that enhance the intermodal transportation system and provide safe alternative transportation options.

“It’s looking favorable,” he said. “We hope to get a TAP grant at the end of year, which will be used to match funds for a DNR grant that will hopefully secure needed funds.”

Once funds are secured, Pletz and the CIA are hoping to begin construction in 2023.

“This project has been in the works for a long time,” Pletz said. “Everything’s coming together. We think this trail will be a great resource for the community.”

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