Alma to Riverdale
We rode the Alma to Riverdale leg round trip on Saturday July 3, 2010 (on bikes). The trail is new and really nice. The trail is not easy to find in the City of Alma if you are not "from there." The parking lot is located just south of the intersection of Park St. and Center Street, cross the tracks and it is on the left side of the street. Good bike shop about 2 blocks from the parking area (Terry's). From there the trail is an extra wide concrete sidewalk that winds through town and Alma College before it changes to asphalt and heads to Elwell and Riverdale. As you go west the trail becomes more shaded. In Riverdale there is a paved parking area and porta john. There was a sign that said that there is a picnic shelter just farther on, although we did not look for it. At the Riverdale stop you are just a block or so north of the Riverdale Tavern (a local favorite for fish fry). There were quite a few people of all ages on the trail as it was a Saturday, but the trail was far from crowded. The asphalt is certainly good enough for skates. The trail west of Bliss Road was very dirty with weeds, sticks, leaves and grass clippings, so skaters may want be aware of this possibility. We found our ride very nice, pretty level, through woods and cropland.
Ride on the paved section
My husband and I recently rode the paved section between Lake Rd in Greenville and Edmore, about 17.5 miles one way. We started at the Lake Rd end - just be aware that if you're coming from the south east (Lansing) and you're using a GPS, you will most likely end up driving on unpaved roads. This was not great for our little Ford Escort, so to leave we decided to take Peck Rd west to Greenville and thus avoided unpaved roads. If this matters to you, plan your approach through Greenville.
The Lake Rd end holds about 3 cars, same with the other points marked Parking on the trail map. A better parking spot may be where the trail intersects Derby Rd in Sidney (3 miles from Lake Rd), as it appeared to be a business or school with a somewhat large (dirt) parking lot.
The trail was not crowded at all, possibly because it may not be well known. The ride was very pleasant. We stopped to have our picnic at the historic bridge. There are also picnic tables in Stanton and McBride, or at the Depot in Edmore. Make sure to take a detour at Dave's Dairy Delight in Edmore (102 S 1st St). To get there, right where the trail changes direction, we cut through behind the Gilson St warehouse to reach Main St and rode west 5 blocks.
We wish the remaining stretch was paved as well, unfortunately riding there with a road and hybrid bike is not practical.
An Enjoyable Morning
"My wife Susan and I got an early start Saturday morning, July 20, 2002, and headed to the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, a rail-to-trail conversion NW of Lansing, where we live, and NE of Grand Rapids. The Heartland Trail is in Montcalm County and runs from Greenville northeast through Stanton and McBride to Edmore. I think the trail is to extend from Edmore to Alma, in Gratiot County, but I'm not sure that stretch is completed yet.
About 1/2 of the current length of the Heartland Trail is paved (asphalt). The paved portion of the trail is the middle section, from Lake Road a few miles NE of Greenville, through Stanton, up to McBride Rd. in the town of McBride. This stretch is a little over 13 miles. I believe there may be plans to pave the rest of the trail in the future.
We knew that the trail was paved in Stanton, the county seat of Montcalm County, so that's where we headed on Saturday. It was about a 1-1/2 hour drive, on back roads, from Lansing to Stanton. (A slightly quicker route would've been I-96 to M-66, then up through Ionia to Stanton.) There is a parking lot for trail access in Stanton, just one block south of Main Street (M-66). There's also a port-a-potty at that point.
We headed south on the trail first, riding until the pavement ended. This was about 8 miles, one-way. Beyond that point, the trail was gravelly. We probably could've proceeded farther on our hybrid bikes, but chose not too. Use of a mountain bike would be advisable for that unpaved stretch of trail and a road bike would be out of the question.
We then backtracked to Stanton and kept going north on the trail until the pavement ended at McBride. Past McBride, the trail appeared to be grass & dirt, but a sign was posted saying that it was a rough trail beyond that point and that it was only suitable for walking and mountain bike riding. So, we turned around again and headed back to Stanton. Our round-trip ride on the paved portion of the trail was a little over 26 miles.
The ride along the Heartland Trail was pleasant and peaceful. It passed through some woodlands, but mostly fields and farms. There were a lot of fragrant wildflowers growing along the side of the trail. There were few other people using the trail--half a dozen or so bicyclist, a few roller-bladers, and a couple walking their dog. We saw plenty of gold finches and other small birds, several chipmunks, some rabbits and squirrels, and, best of all, a great blue herron. (Though we didn't see any deer, judging by the number of deer blinds I saw in the fields around the trail, I suspect that deer are plentiful in the area.) The trail also included a couple of interesting bridges, spanning rapidly flowing creeks.
Seemingly out-of-place in that setting, was a dragstrip between Stanton and McBride, where cars were racing Saturday morning. The dragstrip's end--far beyond the finish line and slow-down stretch--came right up to the trail. Huge hay bales marked the end of the strip and we stopped for a short period to see (hear, mostly) the dragsters. An ambulance driver came along and warned us not to watch from behind the hay bales, as there is always the remote possibility of a car failing to stop and crashing into (and through) the bales.
We decided to have lunch in Stanton, after finishing our ride. There IS a McDonalds right next to the trail at M-66, but don't settle for fast food--peddle a couple of blocks into town and check out the small-town business district. There are at least three little restaurants in a one-block stretch, and we chose Neuman's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, inside the Hotel Montcalm, a 120 or so year old building that now houses the restaurant, an antique store, and a bed & breakfast. I highly recommend it over the fast food at McD's.
After lunch, Susan did a little browsing at the antique shop and bought some gardening tools at the local hardware store, then we called it a day and headed back to Lansing. It was a very enjoyable Saturday morning and I definitely recommend a bike ride on the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail."