The paved William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail State Park is one of Michigan's great rural rail-trails. The trail is located in Oceana County, the "asparagus capital of the world," and the town of Hart hosts an annual asparagus festival complete with a parade, floats and an Asparagus Queen. Agriculture may have a hold on this area today, but Montague, Mears and Hart all have museums showcasing the time when the railroad and lumber industry reigned.
The rail-trail is named after Bill Field, a fruit farmer from Shelby and Oceana County commissioner in the early 1980s. Mr. Field was instrumental in the creation of the trail; after the rail service in Oceana County ended in 1981, he had the vision to turn the corridor into a recreational asset for the community and the state.
The trail begins in Montague; from the trailhead, a connecting trail—the 4-mile White Lake Pathway—heads south, crosses the White Lake River and continues through the city of White Hall. For the Hart Montague Trail, head north. Whichever way you go first, this is the spot to see the world's largest weathervane, a 48-foot structure depicting a Great Lakes schooner that went down in a 1901 storm.
The southern segment of the trail is straight and flat. Christmas tree farms and orchards line the trail. Look for cherries, peaches, apples and even apricots and plums. Be on the lookout for deer milling around in the fields and orchards, especially in the morning and evening. Springtime features a colorful and fragrant trip past the blossoming fruit trees, while autumn brings the crunch of leaves of spectacular reds, oranges and gold.
The trail moves north through the small towns of Rothbury, New Era, Shelby and Mears. Near Rothbury, a four-mile section between mile-markers 16 and 20 is available for horseback riders. Between Rothbury and Mears there are viewing platforms with picnic tables, offering scenic views of the wooded areas. The village of New Era is near the halfway point of the trail, and during the summer you can stop for homemade ice cream at the trailside dairy bar.
In Mears, which has plenty of places to stop for food and water, you can spot remnant prairie grasses along the trail. The gently rolling terrain offers nice country vistas, with plenty of places to stop for a rest. The rail-trail winds down in Hart, but your adventure could be just heating up: Hart is the gateway to the beautiful beaches and giant sand dunes of Silver Lake and Lake Michigan.
To reach the southern trailhead in Montague, take US 31 north to Whitehall/Montague Exit. Turn right on Bus. 31/Colby Street. Follow Business 31 past the stop light in Montague and to trailhead parking on the right.
To reach the Hart area, follow US 31 north and turn right onto Tyler Road/Main Street. Gurney Park and the trailhead is at the corner of Tyler and Oceans roads.