West Michigan has an incredible non-motorized trail network, in no small part due to the dedication and support of Fred Meijer. In honor of that, we celebrate other local trail heroes with the Fred Meijer Trail Champion Awards each year.
Trail Volunteer: Ed Holovka
Ed Holovka is a tireless volunteer for the Musketawa Trail who has worked for the trail in many capacities for more than two decades. He recently stepped down as president of the Friends of the Musketawa Trail and continues in an ex-officio role.
“Ed led our friends group and brought on like-minded board members to help continue the passion for the Musketawa Trail. He is a stellar leader and model volunteer,” said Tim Nink, current president of the Friends of the Musketawa Trail.
Ed said converting an abandoned railroad corridor to a trail made a lot of sense to him and motivated him to get involved, particularly because his son and grandsons love to bike. Under Ed’s leadership the friends group worked on trestles, helped ready the trail for pavement, worked on enhancement and arts projects, helped bring back old railroad memorabilia, rebuilt the 100-year old water tower in Ravenna, installed information kiosks at the four trailheads, and helped restore a railroad caboose in Ravenna. The group has also sponsored kids’ bike rodeos, and sponsors a trail ride every other year. Ed was instrumental in growing the group’s membership to about 100 members and responsible for the friends’ newsletter.
He finds it rewarding and satisfying to see the willingness of a small group of volunteers give up part or all of a weekend to work on the trail. “While working on the trail it’s nice to talk to people who often thank us for what we are doing,” Ed said. “It’s great to see families, individuals and groups enjoying a safe, outdoor recreational activity.”
Trail Professional: Mark Mandenberg
An essential part of the DNR’s State Trails team, Mark Mandenberg was a trail friend, advocate and champion for more than 30 years. Mark passed away this June and is dearly missed by his wife Joni Starr, a host of family, friends, co-workers, and trail enthusiasts.
Mark worked for the DNR and served as the lead grants administrator for the federal Recreational Trails Program and the Recreational Improvement Fund, programs that provided startup funding to trail partners and funded design services for trail bridges and surfacing. Mark’s “Mandenberg Mix” is a new limestone aggregate mix developed to use on the state’s rail trail network. Mark played a huge role in developing Michigan as “The Trails State.”
A man of many talents, Mark was an Eagle Scout who enjoyed hunting, hiking, fishing, gardening, golf, hanging out with friends, and working parking at Michigan State University sporting events. He spent countless hours on a ladder at Riverwalk Theater painting scenes, designing or building a set and even danced as a singing ghost, a rooster and other unique characters. Also known as “Chef Mark” he delighted dinner guests with his creative recipes.
Trail Maintenance: Kent County Parks
Kent County is at the hub of West Michigan’s regional network of non-motorized trails and, for more than 30 years, the Kent County Parks Department has been a leader in developing and maintaining these trails.
To maintain Kent County’s sprawling network of diverse trails, including nearly 50 miles of paved trails, the parks department relies on paid staff as well as hundreds of hours contributed by volunteers through the department’s Volunteer Services Program and partner organizations. From abandoned rail corridors in wide-open sun to heavily wooded areas with dense shade and leaves, management practices are adapted according to unique needs. Whether it’s root pruning, controlling adjacent trees, trimming, mowing, blowing, patching, seal-coating or maintaining wayfinding signs, Kent County Parks always seeks to be proactive in maintaining and improving trails to ensure the best experience possible for trail users. The number of people using the trail system is a testimony to the quality of the trails.
Kent County’s history with non-motorized trails dates back to 1985 when six communities united to create the Kent Trails from John Ball Park and Johnson Park to Douglas Walker Park and Byron Center. Kent County led this effort, partnering with Grand Rapids, Grandville, Walker, Wyoming and ByronTownship to complete the 15-mile trail Kent Trails in 1992. Kent County Parks now maintains and operates the trail and has overseen a complete rebuild and widening project. Kent County Parks was also at the first meetings to create the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, the Musketawa Trail and the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail. The Department envisioned and is responsible for the creation of the Fred Meijer M-6 Trail and the Fred Meijer Pioneer Trail. Kent County Parks has a long history of partnering with townships and the DNR to create or maintain local trail networks including trails in Algoma, Caledonia, Cannon, Gaines, Byron, Grand Rapids, Lowell, and Vergennes townships.
2016 Winners Trail champion homepage