Hill is the community development planner for the township. He has made the path one of his pet projects.
The 3.3-mile North Bank Trail meanders from Fruitport Road in Spring Lake Township to 130th Street in Crockery Township. The path opened in October 2011, and this has been the first summer for bikers and walkers to traverse the scenic trail that includes several wetland overlooks.
Hill said he's been pleased with how well the path has been perceived in the community.
“I’ve had lots of positive comments,” he said. “The biggest thing I hear is, ‘When are you going to extend the path?’”
Spring Lake and Crockery townships are working on doing just that. The two governments are negotiating with landowners to extend another 4.5 miles of the path to Nunica.
Crockery Township Supervisor Leon Stille, who is also elated with the first phase, said negotiations are ongoing.
“Some parts of the (expanded) route are still in doubt,” he said.
Even so, Stille said he's excited about the possibility of extending the bike path through what used to be the railroad tracks belonging to the Grand Trunk Railroad.
It was six or seven years ago when Hill began researching a possible bike path extension beginning where the Lakeside Trail in Spring Lake Village ends at Fruitport Road.
Using Ottawa County’s GPS website, Hill discovered that the township owned most of the land that would be used to build a new path. He also learned that others were keenly interested in extending the path.
Hill then began working with former Spring Lake Village Manager Ryan Cotton, Crockery Township and Polkton Township officials, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in acquiring state grants, and private and foundation funds to foot the cost of the $900,000 price tag for Phase 1.
Hill said the township is also fortunate to be able to use funds from its bicycle path millage.
“We’re unique,” he said. “Most communities don’t have a bike path millage.”
Hill said the township had little difficulty in selling the project to the state “because it is such a good project.”
A key contributor to the project was the North Bank Community Foundation, Hill said. “They provided the seed money,” he said.
The owners of the Lloyd’s Bayou Senior Apartments were also major supporters.
The path was constructed on the Grand Trunk Railroad beds. Hill believes the company removed the tracks in the 1970s.
So far, the new path has been very popular with bikers, walkers and joggers. Hill said he thought people might not like it that the path ended at 130th Street, but that hasn’t been the case.
Hill especially likes it that kids have a safe place to ride their bikes. He worried when he saw kids riding bicycles along M-104.
“They can ride from Crockery and Spring Lake townships into Spring Lake Village,” said Hill, who bicycles to work from his home off 144th Avenue.
An added feature of the North Bank Trail is that the path is 10 feet wide instead of the normal 8 feet required for most bike paths.
Eventually, the townships would like to build a kiosk with historical facts about the former Grand Trunk Railroad corridor.
Spring Lake Township now has more than 30 miles of nonmotorized trails, or bike paths, which makes it an attractive place to live.
“(Bike paths) are a major reason why people are moving here,” Hill said.
That is one reason why Hill is excited about some day extending the bike path to Coopersville and beyond, connecting to the Musketawa Trail east of Coopersville and to other trails.
“We see it as an economic draw in going to downtown Coopersville,” he said. “We’re hoping it will boost tourism.”
A small group of volunteers meets once a month to go over progress of the trail expansion plans and to plan for maintaining the path. Last month, volunteers worked on cleaning brush.
As a planner, Hill said he is proud to play a part in the project.
“It’s all part of building a community,” he said.