Resources & Research

The Clam River Greenway is Connecting People in Cadillac, Michigan

By Precia Garland and Shari Spoelman

Location: Northeast Michigan
Population: 10,000

Children and teens are the greenway’s largest user group, at 54 percent. Photo courtesy of the city of Cadillac.

The Clam River Greenway is a 1.6 mile “ribbon of blue and green” that connects people, neighborhoods, and resources within the city of Cadillac. Born from the imagination of a few engaged citizens who loved their community and weren’t afraid to inspire and collaborate with others, the greenway developed over a 10-year period. The dream was driven by committee meetings, fundraisers, grant writing, volunteer worker bees, strategic partnerships, and old-fashioned tenacity. Project engineering and construction totaled approximately $800,000 and extended over three primary construction phases. One Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) grant and two Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) grants were the primary source of project funding, matched by several corporate and private foundation grants, as well as the Community Foundation, Cadillac Rotary Club, and engraved brick paver sales.

Today’s Clam River Greenway caters to a myriad of people and interests. Ranging in width from eight to ten feet, the greenway is an “expressway” for many types of non-motorized users. Some enjoy the greenway as a safe and scenic place for a leisurely stroll; others are more purpose-driven, commuting from home to school, work, or the grocery store. From north to south, the greenway connects various residential neighborhoods with the Cadillac All-Sports Association soccer and baseball fields, Lincoln Elementary School, commercial shopping along Mitchell Street, the Cadillac Junior High and High Schools, and the Keith McKellop (KM) walkway, which follows the northeast shore of Lake Cadillac. Most sections of the greenway are completely insulated from city streets, reducing conflict with vehicular traffic and making the path a safe alternative for non-motorized users, especially children and seniors. Once on the KM walkway, users are able to link to the in-city section of the White Pine Trail spur, which in turn connects Cadillac 90 miles south to the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. Talk about connectivity!

The greenway connects people, neighborhoods, and resources within the city. Photo courtesy of the city of Cadillac.

Given its location along the Clam River, the greenway has brought new attention and pride to a previously hidden resource. In decades past, the Clam River was regarded as little more than a drainage ditch and its natural route was altered and channelized in several areas to suit the city’s platting needs and abutting private property owners. Today, with the greenway following its river banks, the perspective regarding the Clam River is changing. Children take advantage of the increased fishing opportunities and adults admire the wetland beauty within the city while following over 1,600 feet of boardwalk.

Development of the greenway was assisted in large part by platted but undeveloped alley rights of way owned by the city along the riverbank. Other public land owners along the river, such as Cadillac Area Public Schools, also made acquisition of many greenway easements easy. The first two phases of the greenway were completed where land was already under control of the city or easily obtainable.

This allowed the Clam River Greenway committee to demonstrate the value of the project to the community before the “heavy lifting” took place for the third and final phase of the greenway, which required 16 easements from various private property owners.

In addition from moving from easy to difficult where easement acquisition was concerned, the beauty of saving the third phase for last was that it was the connecting phase. Without phase III, phase I and phase II did not connect. The genius of this phasing was also planned by the Clam River Greenway committee, whose members painstakingly made contact with multiple follow-up visits as necessary to coax private property owners to grant easements to the project. Where necessary, a promise of fencing (with or without an access gate) was provided to property owners. However, many property owners saw the benefit of prior phases of the greenway, and provided easements freely.

It is used for leisurely strolls or purpose-driven commutes from home to school or home to work. Photo courtesy of the city of Cadillac.

Completion of phase III of the greenway was also a major contributing factor in the city’s receipt of the 2009 Gold Promoting Active Communities Award from the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports. The gold award requires a community to document outstanding achievements in making it easy for people to be active, and active they are on the greenway!

Based on data collected by District Health Department #10 in 2008, almost immediately following completion of the third and final connecting phase of the greenway, the city estimated that approximately 1,000 trips were occurring on the pathway weekly. Every age group was also represented in the survey, with children and teens (54 percent) representing the largest user group. A few “intercept” surveys were also conducted while user counts were being taken. One teen commented, “Our parents used to drive us to school. Now we usually take the path—it’s pretty quick and kind of cool!” Another couple using the greenway remarked, “We never knew the Clam River meandered through the city like this until we walked the path.” A pair of senior citizens reported, “The greenway provides a safe and pleasant alternative for walking and exercising as compared to using local streets.”

Given its popularity with the community, the Clam River Greenway committee is now turning its attention to future phases of development, largely outside the city limits. The Cadillac area is blessed with a great deal of wooded public lands, some of which already possess trails that could be connected to the Clam River Greenway. One such area is the Cadillac Pathway, an 11.3 mile trail loop located just northeast of the city. The Cadillac Pathway is located on state property and maintained by the Michigan DNR. It is beloved by walkers, hikers, mountain bikers and cross country skiers, and coincidently, also contains a small section abutted by the Clam River. Discussions are now underway to determine possible routes and resources for connecting the Clam River Greenway to the Cadillac Pathway.

According to Shari Spoelman, Cadillac City councilmember and chairperson of the Clam River Greenway committee, “The greenway has been embraced by the Cadillac community beyond our expectations and added a whole new level of accessibility to our local park system. We have seen first hand what a difference it has made in the lives of our residents and are excited by the possibilities of extending the greenway beyond our community boundaries to further enhance safe recreational opportunities.” 

Precia Garland is the former assistant city manager of the city of Cadillac.

Shari Spoelman is a Cadillac city councilmember and chairperson of the Clam River Greenway Committee. You may reach her at 231-775-0181 or [email protected].

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