Highland resident DJ Lopez takes his skateboard down the Burns Harbor leg of the Marquette Greenway Trail shortly after a celebration of its opening on Friday, June 4, 2021. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)
Highland resident DJ Lopez takes his skateboard down the Burns Harbor leg of the Marquette Greenway Trail shortly after a celebration of its opening on Friday, June 4, 2021. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)
The gaps in a multistate Marquette Greenway Trail system along Lake Michigan’s shore narrowed Friday with the opening of a new link in Burns Harbor.

Officials gathered to celebrate the new trail section that starts just west of the Burns Harbor Fire Station, off Indiana 149.

Burns Harbor received $1.73 million from Indiana’s Next Level Trails program to complete the approximate 1-mile stretch that meanders west across meadows, woodlands and dunes to the city of Portage.

Portage Mayor Sue Lynch said her city will pick up the baton from Burns Harbor and continue the trail next year with a $2.5 million Next Level Trails grant. That segment of the trail will run from Deer Trail Park in the Ameriplex complex eastward to Burns Harbor. A bridge will be constructed over Salt Creek as part of the project.

“I hope the governor will ride a bike on the trail with us,” Lynch told Gov. Eric Holcomb’s representative Rebecca Holwerda, state operations manager.

“This is a big day for us in the region and for Burns Harbor and Portage. Projects like this don’t just happen,” said Lynch who hailed the cooperation between local, state and national agencies.

When finally completed in a few years, the Marquette Greenway will connect trails in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.

Burns Harbor Town Council President Nick Loving said the town’s trail portion was made possible by a unique partnership between the town, state and Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., located in Burns Harbor.

The steel mill giant donated 60 acres to the town to complete the trail. Its plant is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Park.

“Cleveland-Cliffs is very proud to donate land that was really useful to create this Greenway,” said its general manager and vice president J.L. Muller.

He said although the steel mill is a heavily industrial business “we are willing to be a good partner to the parks.”

Holwerda said Burns Harbor’s trail section came in $327,000 under budget, as well.

She said the frustrating summer of 2020 during the nationwide coronavirus pandemic spotlighted the pent-up desire for people to be outside and enjoying nature.

She said the state responded with a $150 million infusion into its trails system.

Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz said the Burns Harbor link was an important piece in the trail system.

Even as the country swings toward a semblance of normalcy as pandemic rules lessen, Labovitz said last year’s increase in visitors proved the dunes’ popularity.

“Our parks and trails arguably saved us all,” he said.

“And it’s no secret to those of us who live in this region, but everyone else wants to be here because we have the quality of life that people who live in densely populated spaces don’t have.”
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