My wife and I are quite active, athletically, and have become quite avid cyclists over the past few years. We have biked several (mostly urban) locales in these years, including Huntsville, Atlanta, Fort Wayne, Columbus, Jacksonville, Grand Rapids, and others. We’ve seen great and we’ve seen good, but I can’t ever recall being disappointed to the level that we were in riding the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail today. For the record, we rode in the section that is in the Kentwood area; I have also ridden the section down by Middleville and found it to be very enjoyable.
In any ride, there are usually about five main criteria that we find to be quite important. Those are:
· Safe environment/neighborhood
· Surface quality
· Proximity to stores/restaurants/etc.
Of these, the trail in question would rank a failing score on all five. I am astounded by the poor quality of this trail and to be honest, I'm not sure why it is called a "bike trail" at all.
To begin with, the signage is absolutely abysmal. No other words to describe it. I can’t even count how many times we had to stop, get out our phone, check the map to see where we were and how to get back onto the trail! Additionally, one time we went down an unmarked split in the path and found ourselves on a boardwalk that had NO railing, just a 2X4 at the edge. One slight missed turn and we would have been in the water. Incredibly dangerous.
On this same portion of the trail, a large tree had been felled and was left blocking the path, right at a T-intersection, and there was no sign or any warning, whatsoever. This was ridiculous, to say the least, and caused a low-speed accident, which would have been much worse, if not for a helmet being worn.
Continuing on, we decided to take the two-mile path that used to be the railroad line which runs to the northwest, towards Grand Rapids. As we rode down this path, at a very relaxed cruising speed of about 11-12 mph, a very grumpy old man started hollering that the speed limit was 5 mph! Seeing no signs, but wanting to be respectful of our environment, we reduced our speed, but I’m not sure if anyone can actually travel 5 mph on a bike!
Either way, we continued on (slowly), and upon reaching the 52nd Street trailhead, once again found ourselves with zero guidance on how to continue on this path. After a painful search, we finally discovered the hidden entrance and continued on. Before we did, we looked for the "sign"; it was the "General Trail Rules" sign, with about 7 suggestions. Number four said, "Keep a safe speed (5 mph or less)". Seriously. This means, all runners, blade-skaters, bicyclists, etc., are NOT welcome here.
If all of this wasn’t bad enough, the quality of the pavement was some of the worst that we’ve ever experienced, and the overgrown brush had encroached onto the path by some distance.
Overall, if I had to give this trail a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, it would be a zero. As in, don’t ever ride this trail, as it is dangerous and unenjoyable.
We have had so many great experiences, in so many cities, that this was clearly unexpected, especially when you consider the quality of trails that DO exist in the Greater GR area. I am not sure who is the responsible government agency on this trail, but seriously, if it is going to continue in this state, it does the GR biking community a great disservice to be included on a list with the other quality trails.