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Reintroducing Detroit: The Future Trails Capital of North America

The Great Lakes Tourism Experience Initiative is actively positioning Detroit as the epicenter of the longest interconnected trail network across Canada and the United States. Here's what you should know about our region's great investment in Detroit's outdoor economy.

Gordie Howe International Bridge Border Crossing Detroit Windsor Canada USA
Rendering of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Image courtesy of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.

Detroit is no stranger to vast trail networks. The Detroit Riverwalk provides immediate access to the Iron Belle Trail, a hiking and biking trail network which, once completed, will stretch more than 2,000 miles from Belle Isle Park to Ironwood in the western tip of the Upper Peninsula. The forthcoming Great Lakes Way will also connect over 160 miles of greenways and 156 miles of blueways running parallel to the southeastern coast of Michigan. Oh, and don't forget that the Iron Belle Trail connects directly to the North Country National Scenic Trail - a vast footpath stretching over 4,800 miles maintained by the National Park Service that guides thru hikers from Vermont to North Dakota.

Dare I say that the Canadian side of the Detroit River is even more connected. The Trans Canada Trail, the longest recreational trail network in the world that ranges over 15,000 miles, extends directly to Windsor’s Riverfront Trail and greater trail network. The Trans Canada Trail also connects with Ontario’s Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, an impressive regional trail network spanning over 2,237 miles around the Great Lakes region, just east of Ontario’s new Ojibway Prairie National Urban Park.

biker cyclist detroit windsor riverfront fall canada usa biking trail
Cyclist peddling along the Windsor Riverfront Trail.

Our region is undoubtedly spoiled with expansive trail networks, but one logistical impediment that bifurcates these two areas is an international border crossing. Fortunately for all of us, on September 9th, meaningful action was taken by several key American and Canadian organizations to diminish this variable. A Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) was jointly signed by representatives from the Trans Canada Trail, the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to collaborate in promoting the Detroit region as a preeminent “binational Great Lakes tourism destination opportunity” by 2024.

The MOU stated that, coinciding with the opening of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, efforts will be made to enhance cross-border trail tourism experiences through the promotion and maintenance of the greenways and waterways found within Detroit, Windsor, and other border cities along the Detroit River. The Gordie Howe International Bridge will include a 12-foot wide, two-way path for bikers and hikers, insulated from vehicular traffic by concrete barriers. Trail users will be subject to the same cross-border travel requirements as vehicular travelers (i.e., will need a passport, NEXUS card or other acceptable form of identification), although separate customs booths will process cyclists and pedestrians.

But wait, there’s more. In addition to connecting all of these great trail networks, the partner organizations also agreed to further expand these trails for more engaging and enriching international outdoor experiences. The partners agreed to collaborate on marketing strategies, economic development through eco-tourism, conservation, encouraging healthy living, and even using cutting-edge technology to enhance trail experiences (such as a “digital trail mirroring a physical trail” across the bridge). The Binational Great Lakes Tourism Experience initiative (the “Initiative”) just launched a website that provides additional information on each of the partner organizations and an interactive map of the interconnected trail network.

If you can’t tell, we at Expedition Detroit are beyond excited for the industry-redefining Initiative. Our core belief is that Detroit is a world-class outdoor destination worth exploring, celebrating, and protecting. Beyond confirming that we are not the only venture holding that belief, the Initiative demonstrates that binational partnerships are actively investing in and effectuating that mission.

While we’re chomping at the bit to see the grand opening of the Gordie Howe International Bridge and the realization of the Initiative, the next two years present a once in a lifetime opportunity to partner with and expand upon the Initiative’s actions and mission. A quick glance at the Initiative’s map shows that Detroit is strategically placed at the epicenter of these premiere trail networks. In between the colored trail lines, however, there are a lifetime’s worth of world-class outdoor opportunities to explore. Expedition Detroit is passionate about providing the color to the gray areas surrounding both sides of the Detroit River. We will proactively continue to develop outdoor accessibility resources, provide exposure to new adventures, and promote conservation of our natural resources.

We hope that you will join us on this exciting venture, and we can’t wait to see you out there.


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