The story of the 41-mile Fred Meijer Heartland Trail is one of generosity, dedication and can-do attitudes. Fred and Lena Meijer helped purchase the abandoned corridor in 1994, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy held it for safekeeping and a very active citizens group took over the trail's operation and development in 2000. Since then, the corridor has blossomed into a scenic asphalt trail from downtown Greenville to downtown Alma.
In Greenville, the trail begins at E. Grove Street and extends north, quickly reaching a restored trestle over the Flat River. North of the river, the trail meets both Greenville’s Fred Meijer Flat River Trail and the unimproved Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Rail Trail, which makes a loop around Greenville and extends south to Lowell, respectively. The three trails, along with the Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Rail Trail and the Fred Meijer CIS Trail farther south, are components of the Mid-West Michigan Rail-Trail Network, which will eventually stretch 125 miles from Owosso to Alma.
At Peck Road, trail users must continue east on the road to S. Lake Road, which then should be taken north a short distance to again pick up the Heartland Trail. From here to the Village of Edmore, you will find a peaceful 22-mile stretch through prime agricultural lands, woods, meadows, wetlands and small historic towns.
You can turn right on Sidney Road and head east about 1.5 miles to the Heritage Village at Montcalm Community College, a cluster of 20 historical buildings with artifacts depicting life in Michigan at the turn of the 20th century. While the grounds are open year-round, visitors to the annual Heritage Festival in August, and other special events throughout the year, can enter many of these buildings, including a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop and a town jail. Costumed reenactments make history come alive at those times.
A historic 1887 trestle bridge gets you over Fish Creek at Mile 6, halfway between Sidney and Stanton. Just 2 miles from Stanton, at Mile 5.5, the trail passes through the first of two wildlife areas along this trail, the Stanton State Game Area. In the warm months, the trail is abloom with many native wildflowers, all of which are documented and on display at the herbarium exhibit at Montcalm Community College.
Another trailside attraction paying tribute to the past is the Railroad Worker Memorial in Stanton at Mile 7.5. Stanton, the seat of Montcalm County, offers a variety of eateries, from fast food to home cooking, and a few local shops that carry clothing and other supplies. Back on the trail, you run right up to the Mid-Michigan Motorplex drag strip at Mile 9.5, where you may be able to catch a glimpse of the dragsters being put through their paces in the warmer months.
The historic town of Edmore is next, at Mile 14.5, with memorabilia at the Old Fence Rider Historical Center and in the local antique shops. It is here that the trail sharply changes direction from north to east. 3 miles east of Edmore, the trail passes close to the campus of the Great Lakes Adventist Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in rural Cedar Lake. Travel south on County Road 575/Academy Road to reach the sprawling campus. The school presents a most unique historic artifact—a two-story outhouse. Legend has it that a local businessman had seven daughters living with him on the second floor of his home, while his employees used the first level. He did not want his daughters interacting with the railroad workers and lumberjacks who frequented the building, so he provided them with their own outhouse.
Halfway between Edmore and Vestaburg, the trail travels through the Vestaburg State Game Area. This area, rich with the natural beauty of woods and waters, became even better environs for wildlife when the water washed out the rail corridor in the mid-1980s and the beaver and other wetland species took residence. The beauty of this section is that the trail goes for 2.5 miles without a single road crossing. Many white-tailed deer, fox, muskrat and other animals can be spotted traversing this open space along the way.
The town of Riverdale, at Mile 33, boasts the Riverdale Museum, where you can visit a restored one-room schoolhouse and cross the Pine River trestle bridge. The town of Elwell, 2 miles farther, has limited services for trail users, but your journey ends 4 miles later in the largest town along the trail: Alma, the home of Alma College and the famous Highland Festival, as well as many grocery stores, a bike shop and several other businesses.
Parking for the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail is available in Greenville at Water Works Park, where the trail meets the Fred Meijer Flat River Trail. The park is located at the intersection of E. Charles Street and N. Clay Street.
North of Greenville, the Lake Road entrance to the trail holds a couple cars, but is not an official trailhead. You may find parking at many of the cross streets, and at a sizeable shared use parking lot at Sidney, but the official trailheads are in Stanton, McBride and Edmore.
In Alma, park at Alma College’s Remick Heritage Center on Superior Street.