This trail connects Thompsonville (near Crystal Mt. Resort) with two communities on Lake Michigan. In its previous life it was a railroad bed that once led to the car ferries that left Frankfort and Elberta for Wisconsin. Occasionally there would be a railroad car that would return to southern Michigan. I had the fun of taking it when I was in my teens. I left from the Thompsonville Depot and arrived in Grand Rapids for a weekend visit with my Aunt Jerry and Uncle Gil Stone. The passenger car was used very little and showed lots of age and wear, and needless to say I was the only passenger, besides the Conductor.
As for the current trail, there is local art expression throughout. Across from the trail head in Beulah is a long folk-like mural that portrays highlights of the area and near the trail end, in the Lighthouse Café in Elberta, there is a beach and lighthouse scene both painted by the same friend, Connie McLaren, a teacher, artist, and former colleague. In a flower bed below the trailhead Depot in Beulah, a metal sculpture can be found tucked away in a village flower bed, created by a friend, Kevin Short. The vintage cottages that line the trail in the village of Beulah as we headed west, are artfully decorated and painted, reflecting the whimsy of summer. Midway trailside,where the Betsie River comes into view, graffiti artist have graced an old bridge siding with the timeless plea of “PEACE” in colorful paint along with the popular symbol from the 60’s.
I like to start in Beulah, which skirts one of the most beautiful lakes in the lower peninsula, Crystal Lake. The ten mile long lake is surrounded by high hills and the bluest of blue water that create its charm.
Part of the trail is a packed composite that eventually segues into a paved road. After leaving the lake the trail follows the Betsie River through a forest covered segment with ponds full of turtles, large wading birds like Great Blue Herons, and smaller birds like Kingfishers. The ponds are filled with ghostly gray trees whose life has ended within the watery domain. We were even surprised to see a white egret in Betsie Bay. Occasionally there are Sandhill Cranes there, too. Evidence of the glacial age sit just off the trail in the form of a huge boulder, an erratic in geological terms.
Views of the Betsie River appear now and then with opportunities to sit and ponder its beauty with the many benches scattered along the pathway.
As we neared the mouth of the river at Betsie Bay, the landscape turned from forest to open grassland filled with wildflowers that border the trail in profusion.
Thursday, we found, was Farmer’s Market Day in Elberta. This sleeply little town had an energized bustle to it as we approached. Our destination was the Lighthouse Café for breakfast, which likely cancelled all aerobic efforts on our part.
Midway through the meal, I discovered my friend, Jane, was a Friend of the Betsie River Trail, an admirable thing to do, to support such a wonderful cause in Benzie County.
The day ended with a big bang, not because it was such a gorgeous day, but because I listened to my brother. He suggested I use my foot pedal straps so that I get the most energy out of each push. As I approached one of two roads the trail crosses, I couldn’t get my right foot out of the strap fast enough and came to a dead stop and promptly fell SMACK over landing on my right elbow and knee. Thank goodness I was not still moving, or in the middle of a busy road. It was embarrassing, but only my friend and I were witness to it. Moments like these remind me that what my mind feels and how my body react are slowly drifting apart. Luckily, the body is still tough enough to endure these malfunctions. The arms are still banged up and colored with bruises. The knees quickly recovered, they did not have as far to fall. A little motrin and clean up later and I was almost as good as new.
Our round trip was a little over 15 miles and took 3 hours with stops for photo opps and breakfast, but all in all, good fun! It is a trail of connections of time spent with friends, friends’ artwork and businesses at each end, and a past memory of riding on a train from Thompsonville to Grand Rapids when I was a teen, and a little pain every night as I land on my elbow, when I hop into bed. CHEERS!