November 5, 2008
The Polly Ann follows the old Pontiac, Oxford & Northern rail line. The “official” trail is marked from Oxford north to Leonard and to Bordman Rd. but the right-of-way is marked and quite passable (for hikers, horse, and mountain bikes) quite a bit further. That is the topic of this article.
The trail entry is at Leonard, Michigan which is roughly 13.5 miles north of the center of Rochester, Michigan on Rochester Rd (also known as Forest St, in Leonard.) There is a parking lot south of the grain elevator on E. Elmwood St. (also known as Leonard Rd.), 1 block east of the blinker light in Leonard. There is a toilet there that is clean and maintained (according to my wife.) For drinks and something to eat there are two small party stores in Leonard at the northwest and northeast corners of Forest St and Elmwood St. The trail heads NNE from Leonard through rolling upland woods and farm country. The surface is paved for ½ mile to Gerst Rd. then is packed stone dust for another mile to Bordman Rd., the county line between Oakland and Lapeer Counties.
The trail then becomes semi-improved two-track whose surface ranges from stone dust to dirt to road bed ballast. The right-of-way is mowed so not particularly brushy, but it is a “trail ride” from here on. It is quite passable on a mountain bike. My wife and I ride a tandem but from this point north a tandem team would be greatly challenged, due to trail surface conditions.
At Hough Rd. the trail is less improved, rail bed ballast and gravel. Another mile north the trail climbs a steep embankment up to General Squier Rd. This road is paved and traffic travels at 55 mph, so be careful. The embankment on the other side is just as steep. Walking one’s bike up and down may be a good idea. At General Squier Rd., visible to the west of the trail crossing, there is a commercial farm/vineyard that has produce and fruit for sale in season. It is a worthwhile side trip.
Continuing NNE along the trail, the trail surface gets rougher, down to single track with uneven surfaces, which can be wet and occasionally slippery after a local rain. The trail crosses Casey Rd. about 1/4 mile east of General Squier Park and about ½ mile east of Pioneer Cemetery which has the graves some of the earliest settlers in the area. The trail passes through numerous marshy areas. There are well-maintained bridges across marshy areas all along the trail.
The trail crosses Dryden Rd. just east of the main intersection in Dryden, Michigan. There are stores and a restaurant or two and also a gas station. In October 2008 there was a pavilion under construction on the south side of Dryden Rd. just west of the trail crossing. Dryden Rd. is within the village limits, nonetheless traffic is quick there and caution while crossing is advised.
From Dryden the trail is mowed but single track. The trail will cross Hollow Corners Rd. then Sutton Rd. Shortly thereafter is Hunters Creek Rd., Summers Rd. and then Interstate-69. Summers Rd. is a north-south road unlike the others (This note to help orientation.) As the rider crosses under I-69, the large concrete abutments to guard the highway bridge pylons against train derailment may be noticed. The next road is Newark Rd. The country is mainly agricultural with large soy bean and corn farms. There are also stretches of woods.
At Black’s Corner Rd. (another north-south road) the trail becomes paved for something less than a mile. On the west side of the trail is a pickle factory. The trail crosses under the old Grand Trunk Western (now Canadian National) line which travels east to Port Huron and into Canada.
This portion of the trail passes west of the old main business district of Imlay City. At W. 4th Street, one may head east to N. Main St. for a ride around old Imlay City, the center of which is at N. Main and 3rd St. There are numerous restaurants, shops, and gas stations in the old section of town. It is a very typical Midwestern small agricultural/industrial-based town. There has been a substantial remodeling of the old business district that has been nicely done. There is a downtown pavilion and sitting area. There are ice cream shops (a nod to my wife.) There are numerous historic homes on side streets. The main business district of Imlay City has shifted to Van Dyke Ave. (M-53) which is further east This is extremely busy with a great deal of traffic as M-53 is the major north-south route between Detroit, I-69, and up into Michigan’s “thumb.”
The trail heads NNW out of Imlay City toward Lum, Michigan. Crossing back over Black’s Corner Rd. at Attica Rd. the trail returns to rough single track. At this point trail maintenance becomes spotty. Mowing seems to be perhaps once a year. The trail surface is rail bed ballast, dirt, and pebble. It may be wet after local rain and can be slippery. There also seemed to be the occasional railroad tie hidden barely beneath the trail surface that can dump the unwary.
The trail crosses Summers Rd. (north-south road) and then quickly crosses Imlay City Rd./Capac Rd./old M-21/78. Caution must be taken here. This is the old main highway between Port Huron and Flint. It is still a major surface thoroughfare. Traffic is very heavy and very fast here.
The trail crosses Bower Rd. and continues NNW through farm country. The next road crossing is Youngs Rd. (north-south road.).
The trail enters Lum, Michigan at Lum Rd., ½ block east of Mitchell Lake Rd. There is a party store in Lum that has ice cream (a nod to my wife), drinks, and makes pizza. The proprietors took pity on my wife and let her use the bathroom. Otherwise there are no public toilets (that we could find) in Lum.
The trail continues NNW swinging to North out of Lum headed toward Kings Mill. The agricultural country continues with soy bean fields, corn fields, an occasional sugar beet field, with occasional deep woods sections. The next road crossing is Stanton Lake Rd. There is one more crossing at Curtis Rd. before one arrives at Kings Mill. Kings Mill is on Lake Pleasant Rd., which is an extension of Rochester Rd. There is no formal trail entry here but there is a small community here and party store at the corner of Kings Mill Rd. Mill St., and Lake Pleasant Rd. where one may ask to park. There do not appear to be any public toilets (that we could find.)
There are numerous creek crossings all along the way on bridges built and maintained by various clubs and civic organizations. The bridges are sound and well-maintained. One may choose to walk one’s bike across as at some of the approaches to the bridges there may be a difference in surface height from the approach, to the bridge deck, and back to the following approach.
Long sections of the trail run through some fairly deep woods and marshy areas. In warm weather insect repellent is advised. There are numerous deer in the area as well, so to guard against ticks as well as biting flies, an insect repellent with DEET may be advisable.
Michigan temperatures in July and August can reach into the 80’s and occasionally 90’s. Carry sufficient water.
At most of the road/trail crossings, there is sufficient parking for one or two cars to get on the shoulder to load and off-load bicycles. Please be mindful and do not block farmers’ entry into their fields, which are often adjacent to the trail and parking spots.
Trail traffic is generally very light to non-existent north of Hough Rd. There are a very few walkers/hikers, a very few bike riders.
There is evidence of horses.
Endless deer, rodents, an occasional fox or coyote. The marsh areas are full of aquatic birds such as various species of ducks, gees, kingfishers, swallows. A couple of these ponds appear to have beaver lodges as well as muskrats. The upland areas have pheasant, woodcock, wood ducks, endless perching birds, raptors, clinging birds, and about everything else imaginable.
While there is little change in elevation on this trail, the rough, uneven surface of the trail north of Hough Rd. make this other than a casual ride through the country. I averaged less than 10 mph through the northern sections of this trail. Some sections of the trail go through country that is not easily accessed by the country roads. Carry a cell phone, although there are areas of limited or no coverage.
Leonard to Dryden ==> 6.2 miles
Dryden to Imlay City ==> 5.9 miles
Imlay City to Lum ==> 6.2 miles
Lum to Kings Mill ==> 3.5 miles
Total mileage ==> 21.8 miles