More than two dozen projects along different parts of Michigan’s Iron Belle Trail will get a boost this year, sharing $1.4 million in public and privately raised funds to help build connections along the state’s showcase trail.

Stretching more than 2,000 total miles, the Iron Belle Trail is the longest state-designated trail in the nation. Currently just over 70 percent completed, the trail runs along two separate routes: a hiking segment that mainly follows the North Country National Scenic Trail on the west side of Michigan, and an 800-mile bike trail running between Belle Isle in Detroit all the way to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.

This year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has awarded $815,884 in mini-grants, while the private Iron Belle Trail Fund has added another $650,000 to support multiple projects on the trail. Grants from these two sources will leverage a matching $3 million in Iron Belle Trail projects.

“Momentum has been building for several years on the Iron Belle Trail, and these grants will ensure that it continues,” said Dakota Hewlett, Iron Belle Trail coordinator. “Several communities have used the mini-grant process to study, engineer and, now, build segments of the trail. It’s exciting to see these plans come together.”

The DNR received 36 applications for this grant cycle. Projects in 15 different counties received funding for signage, engineering, feasibility studies and trail/trailhead construction. The DNR introduced the mini-grants in 2015 as a way to build connections along the trail. Each grant applicant could ask for a maximum of $50,000 and was encouraged, though not required, to provide local match funds.

One community that applied for and received funding is Crawford County, which will use $150,000 to engineer three potential Iron Belle Trail projects in the Grayling

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