Brian Beauchamp spent six years doing community organizing with one of the state’s premier environmental policy organizations, the Michigan Land Use Institute, and just recently accepted a job with TART Trails, the group that takes care of the pathways we cherish and has done so much to put Traverse City on the national map for being a bikeable, walkable community. We caught up with Brian to see why he loves trails and what he sees ahead.

First, a quick look back. What was the last fun project you did at Michigan Land Use Institute?

I had just completed a local energy saving program in Traverse City, working with homeowners to cut energy use. It was a lot of fun and a great project to wrap up my time at MLUI. That program will continue, but Traverse City Light and Power will be taking it in house.

When did the notion of working with trails catch your fascination?

Well, I met the former executive director, Bob Otwell, when I first moved here six years ago. He encouraged me to join the board, which I did.

What about the mission converted you from board member to staffer?

The trails have given me an opportunity to exercise and get fresh air and to meet new friends. And to get to play a part in providing that opportunity for others in the community is really exciting. It feels really good. I love it when I see families out there, with bike trailers and moms and dads and toddlers and young kids all biking together along the trail. Or, like Norte, that’s a group working to get kids and adults out on bikes with weekly rides on the Vasa Trail and the TART Trail. Or the Cherry Capital Cycling Club or the track club, all taking advantage of the trails to support their missions. It really shows the magnitude of this place, the quality of life and quality of community, and the trails are such a big part of that. It’s really fun to join the staff and my put shoulder to the wheel and grapple with the challenges of growing the organization and letting people know what we are all about.

Give us examples of how TART’s trails are part of your day to day life.

Just getting around town, for one. But also, when I first moved here, I found it pretty cool that I could ride the TART Trail out to Bunker Hill to do trail riding on the VASA and not have to deal with any cars. I also like that I can take the Leelanau Trail to access all the roads that are great for riding out in Leelanau County. Also, my grandma lives in a place on Boardman Lake. It’s beautiful there, and if you didn’t know better you’d think you were in a Swiss Chalet. But you are less than a mile down the trail from the library and Oryana and all the amenities of downtown, and you can walk it or ride your bike and you don’t have to contend with cars. Of course, the Boardman Trail works the other way too: it brings people from town to the lake, so people are discovering Boardman Lake because of the trail.

Tell us something good about the trails that people might not be fully aware of.

They are an economic driver. People come into town from the state park or stop into convenience stores along the trail and buy stuff for their ride. We are hearing more and more about that from business owners—that bike riders are stopping in.

Our country is scrambling to get a grip on rising health costs, and northwest Michigan in particular has some of the highest obesity rates and diabetes rates in the nation. TART Trails seem like an obvious part of a solution.

Right. We all have to pay billions for the cost of care, so if we can pay millions for prevention, we are much better off. Trails are such a great way for people to reclaim health and wellness. I can think of a couple of people in my life who have lost 50 pounds through cycling. You know, exercise can feel so serious, like such hard work, but the thing about cycling or going for a walk is it can be so much fun. Especially for me, cycling—mountain biking the Vasa singletrack through the woods and all those awesome roads. It just lifts your spirit to get out there on a trail.

And that means accessibility year round. What’s the quick update on whether local government will keep the trail clear?

We are optimistic. We are working with Traverse City, the county and the townships to make sure snow removal happens on all the trails, keep them clear and accessible all year. The county has stepped forward, some townships.

Let’s wrap up with a vision thing. What’s something big that trail people think about for the future.

We would like to see an extension of the TART Trail up to Elk Rapids. And then if we could connect a few other things we could ride all the way to the Mackinac Bridge. Governor Snyder has made trail building one of his four main initiatives in his second term, so we’re here to help him achieve that goal.

10:19, Tuesday, December 2:  This just in from Brian Beauchamp … “Good news on snow removal on the TART Trail. Just last night the City of TC committed to hiring seasonal employees for snow removal on the trails.  This is great news and means that this winter we have commitments from Acme Township, Grand Traverse County, Garfield Township, and the City of Traverse City to keep the trails clear.  From Cherry Bend Road to Bunker Hill will be cleared of snow this winter as well as the Mall Trail and Buffalo Ridge.  This is a big step and gets us closer to our goal of year-round accessibility on the network of trails.” —BB

Photo(s) by Jeff Smith