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      Sleeping Bear trail route debate

      After years of planning, the first leg of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is almost complete.

      The hard-surfaced pathway will use highways, rail beds, seasonal roads and existing trails to provide safe passage through one of the most beautiful places in America, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore.

      The first segment of trail, which will run from the dune climb to Glenn Arbor, is nearly complete. The construction is almost done, said Tom Ulrich, National Park Service.

      Over the next couple years, the Heritage Trail will expand south to Empire and north past Little Traverse Lake.

      A designated pathway paralleling M-22 and M-109 has already been approved by state and federal agencies. However, there are some Leelanau County residents who don't like the idea of connecting the trail to Traverse Lake Road.

      The Little Traverse Lake Association has put together a petition of 200 people explaining why.

      On the backside we have critical dunes that the trail would have to go through. We don't really think that is a nice experience for users....we think a better experience would be to come down Lake Michigan Road and continue east to Good Harbor Beach, said Bill Irwin, Little Traverse Lake Association.

      While the idea has strong support from area residents, the National Park Service says the proposal is not possible.

      It TMs not possible for a couple of reasons. One is|keeping the very premise to keep the trail next to existing roads or on breaks through the woods...that would not do that...there are some corridors but you would have to cut through a great deal of untouched forest at quite a distance from the roadway. That would have considerably more impact, said Ulrich.

      The Park Service said they may explore other options that don't include building an additional path along Traverse Lake Road.

      They have considered simply widening the existing road to minimize impact.

      However, that idea is not sitting well with area residents.

      It just wouldn't make for a very pleasant experience. We really think the superior experience would be where they are separated from the road, said Irwin.

      The Park Service plans on moving ahead with the project as is.

      More than $6 Million in grants have been raised to fund the project.