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 The Clinton River Park trail, north of Dodge Park in Sterling Heights, makes its winding course past some benches. The trail is supposed to become a  link along the statewide Iron Belle Trail.

The Clinton River Park trail, north of Dodge Park in Sterling Heights, makes its winding course past some benches. The trail is supposed to become a link along the statewide Iron Belle Trail.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Iron Belle trail study picks path within Sterling

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 3, 2019

 A runner exercises along the trail.

A runner exercises along the trail.

Photo by Deb Jacques


STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights will formally be part of a trail that spans from the Upper Peninsula to Detroit, but construction won’t begin anytime soon, according to trail analysts and city officials.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Iron Belle Trail is a twin trail that starts in Ironwood, Michigan, and ends at Belle Isle, taking two separate paths. The planned hiking path is 1,259 miles long, and the bike path is 774 miles, Sterling Heights officials said.

Plans call for the bike trail to intersect Sterling Heights. During the Nov. 19 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the council unanimously passed a resolution in its consent agenda, supporting a trail study. The resolution did not commit the city to any financial support.

Norman Cox, a “planscape archineer” and landscape architect from The Greenway Collaborative Inc., gave a presentation on an Iron Belle Trail feasibility study. Although Sterling Heights will be part of the bike trail, Cox said local paths are primarily shared among bikers and pedestrians.

Cox said the Iron Belle bike route connects many existing Michigan trails and is already “over 70% complete,” but there’s a gap in Macomb County that was hard to plan around. The study was done to examine the gap in Warren, Center Line and Sterling Heights and to figure out a possible solution that’s still affordable, he added.

“It’s a very dense, highly built-up area, so we took a while. We looked at a lot of different routes, trying to figure out what is the best way to thread our way through these different communities,” he said.

He said the trail is “quite well defined” north and south of the county borders. The goal is to run the trail through areas with local amenities so it can promote the economy and the general area.

“It is to be a very family-friendly route — something you want to go on with your kids and everyone feels comfortable using,” he said.

The study seeks to put the trail through Sterling Heights in three relevant areas. From the south, the first 1.1-mile segment will go northward from 14 Mile Road to 15 Mile Road via the ITC corridor. It will go along the Red Run Drain, requiring a bridge over the Red Run to tie it in to Baumgartner Park. This leg of the trail has an estimated $1.2 million price tag and a 2023 construction schedule, Cox explained.

“This is both one of the most exciting and simultaneously challenging segments in all of the county,” he said, adding that the goal is to make this “something that is not just a line on the map, but actually has a lot of thought and buy-in on it.”

Going northward is the second Sterling Heights trail segment, spanning about 1.6 miles from 15 Mile Road northward to Metropolitan Parkway. It would cost about $1.2 million and would be scheduled for 2024, he said.

The last 1.8-mile segment goes northward from Metro Parkway to the area of Utica Road and Dodge Park. Cox praised the city for its recent work in that area, alluding to the Recreating Recreation campaign.

“We’re going to do a few enhancements we’re proposing, some more rest areas, maybe a little bit more landscaping, making it feel more park- and greenway-like,” he said. “The whole area is going to have wayfinding signage and identification signs.

“So if people happen to stumble upon here, they’ll realize, ‘Hey, I’m walking on a trail that I could walk up to the U.P. or bike up to the U.P. or down to Belle Isle.’”

The last leg would get to work in 2024 and would cost less — about $200,000, he said. Cox said the project organizers are checking out local, state, federal and private funding sources.

After the presentation, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said he is excited about the plan.

“Wish it was, you know, 2020 and 2021 instead of ’23 and ’24, but I understand there’s a number of challenges, too,” he said.

Melanie Davis, Sterling Heights’ community relations director, said the city will be able to use much of what it already has for the Iron Belle Trail work.

“The trail utilizes the Clinton Trail through Dodge Park up to Utica, so that already exists,” she said. “Then, it is proposed to utilize portions of the path that were installed as a part of the re-do of Dodge Park Road, so that already exists, as well.  The southern portion is what still needs the most work.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2489. For more information about the Iron Belle Trail feasibility study, visit