Bill Gibson

Prologue: The Foundation and its donors provide the creative energy and collaboration behind many beloved Midland traditions – including the Pere Marquette Rail Trail. The Foundation assists community members in addressing issues or seeking support for projects that are difficult to pursue via other avenues.

Bill Gibson, former Midland County Parks & Recreation Director – In His Own Words, documented by Phil Eich

“Well, I remember distinctly having a meeting with Paul Pounders, County of Midland Parks Manager, up in Sanford, where we went and had some coffee and breakfast, and we kicked around the idea of turning the old CSX right of way into a non-motorized transportation corridor. We thought it could become such a tremendous asset to our community because we knew where it went: it started in downtown Midland and went right along, connecting to Sanford, then Coleman, and all the way to the outskirts of Clare. So we took the idea to our staff and eventually brought it to our Parks and Recreation Commission.

They thought, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea!’

But initially, there was opposition from some folks. So the first thing Paul and I did was to make a video so people could see the idea for themselves. We borrowed a video camera from the Sheriff’s Department, and we stopped at every place, every point of interest along the way.

The big thing is that a project like this probably wouldn’t have happened in many communities outside of this community. The county was cutting back at the time, but we thought the idea was worth a chance, and so the community kept working, talking with other groups, and so forth, and we made it happen. The Pere-Marquette Rail Trail was a total Midland County community project, with all kinds of people responsible for making it happen: community leaders, citizens out doing fundraisers, school kids. To take something like this from an idea to reality, an entire community is what it took.

Paul and I showed the Community Foundation the video we developed, and the Foundation thought the idea was worthy of future exploration, so we organized a trip with community leaders to visit the Hart-Montague trail over by Muskegon, which was one of the only functioning rail trails in Michigan at that time. We were riding bikes, and everybody was so positive along the way. They really enjoyed it. One of the things that Paul and I and staff discussed is that we didn’t like how narrow it was, so in our planning, we made our trail much wider so that people could ride side by side if they wanted.

The Community Foundation told the County Board of Commissioners that they would put up the money to purchase at least $500,000 to purchase the corridor. A linear park advisory committee was put together by the county for assistance, we hired a design company to do the planning, and it went from there.

 And a lot of communities don’t have something like the Midland Area Community Foundation, organizations who are able to help with projects like these, and we’re totally blessed.

Once completed, the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail became an excellent way to be able to link the communities! Plus, you can use the corridors for bicycling, for transportation, and I get a smile on my face whenever I see somebody go down in a motorized wheelchair. That is so cool because it’s an opportunity for them to get out and to feel free.

The Pere-Marquette Rail Trail didn’t happen because of any one person. It really took the entire community.”

More Stories