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Many factors contribute to the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail’s popularity. It runs for 30 miles on smooth asphalt that is well maintained and, at 14 feet, wide enough to ride or walk side-by-side. At either end, Midland and Clare offer convenient services for weary travelers, as do small towns along the route. Forests, parks, bridges, and historical sites provide diversions and opportunities for reflection along the way.
The trail traces the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad’s segment between Midland and Clare that opened in 1870. The line served a railroad car service across Lake Michigan and timber companies that were clear-cutting the state’s old-growth forests. The Pere Marquette Railroad acquired the railway in 1899 and operated it until the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway took over in 1947. Traffic continued to dwindle, and the C&O stopped using the line in the 1980s. The trail opened in 1993.
Starting at the Midland Area Farmers Market (open in season on Wednesdays and Saturdays), you can take a quick side trip over the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers on a three-span bridge called The Tridge. The Chippewa Trail heads south and west for 4 miles. You’ll return to the market and head north on the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.
Riverside parks and cultural attractions border the trail as you leave town. You’ll find covered picnic spots at Emerson Park, statues and blooming flowers at Dahlia Hill, and local history exhibits at Herbert D. Doan Midland County History Center or the Herbert Dow Museum (Dow Chemical got its start in Midland). Another attraction located just off the trail is Bradley House. This restored 1874 home offers visitors a glimpse into the everyday life of an early Midland family.
After passing through woods for about 8.4 miles, you’ll arrive in Sanford. There’s plenty to explore here, such as restaurants and shops or the riverside park. Just across the steel trestle you’ll find the Sanford Centennial Museum, complete with a relocated circa-1870 railroad depot and railroad cars. About a mile ahead is Veterans Memorial Park, which features 200-year-old red and white pines. Hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing trails at Pine Haven Recreation Area are 2.7 miles off the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail via Saginaw Road to Northwest River Road and then West Maynard Road.
The forest opens to farmland in a few miles, and Coleman comes into view about 11 miles past Sanford. Meals are available right next to the trail, or you can explore town for shops and more cafés. The old railroad depot has been renovated, and you can visit the library about two blocks away at Railway and First Streets, or the bike shop at Railway and Seventh Streets.
In another 4.7 miles you’ll arrive at Loomis. Like other towns along the route, Loomis also started with a sawmill during the timber boom and benefited from the railroad. A general store and a few homes are all that remain today.
The Pere Marquette Rail-Trail ends in Clare in another 5.4 miles. An on-road bike lane on Pine, Fifth, and Main Streets ushers you through town to the Pere Marquette State Trail. The 53-mile crushed-stone pathway goes all the way to Baldwin.
To reach the trailhead at the Midland Area Farmers Market from I-75, take Exit 162B toward Midland on US 10 W. Continue west on US 10 for 11.2 miles, and exit left onto Bus. US 10/MI 20. Go 2.6 miles, and take the second right off the roundabout onto Patrick Road, heading west. Go 1.6 miles—Patrick Road becomes E. Indian St.—and turn left onto Ashman St. Go 0.4 mile into the parking for the farmers market. The trail leaves from the circle behind the farmers market.
To reach the trailhead in Clare from US 127 heading north, take Exit 156 left to E. Bus. US 127 toward Clare. Go 0.9 mile, and bear right around the traffic circle: the road joins N. Mission Road and then becomes N. McEwan St. In 0.7 mile, turn right onto E. Fourth St. Just before the end of the block, find a multiuse trail on your right and on-street or municipal parking on your left, behind the public library at E. Fourth St. and Pine St. The trail begins as a multiuse trail just across E. Third St.
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