A railroad once ran through it—Mid Michigan Community College, that is. During the latter part of the 19th century, steam locomotives once regularly hauled men and materials between Clare and what was the booming town of Dodge. Although the rails were pulled up when the lumber played out, the grade on which the trains ran can still be seen on the college’s Harrison campus, and some of the old grade has been incorporated into the college’s walking trails. But many who walk those trails may not know about the history under their feet–until now.
A new kiosk on school grounds now stands ready to educate visitors and residents about Clare’s fascinating past while promoting exercise. Dedicated on May 10, the kiosk is a joint project of the college, Clare County Historical Society and Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation.
“We’re always looking for ways to encourage people to take advantage of our trails, so when the Clare Historical Society and ‘Friends’ approached us about this joint venture, we quickly agreed,” said Matt Miller, VP of Student and Community Relations. “We’ve got beautiful scenery around and above us, now we’re giving people a reason to better appreciate what’s beneath them, as well.”
According to Joe Bradley, CCHS President, Clare County has more than 300 miles of railroad grades, which puts the county near the top in mileage in the state. And while most of thsee railroads were narrow gauge temporary railroads that existed only long enough to haul trees out of a section of forest, a number of them carried full-sized trains. “Once the trees were all cut the economy went downhill fast; the railroads just pulled up stakes—literally—and moved out. Now only the grades remain. ” Bradley added that most of the grades are deep in the woods on state land or on private property. Only a few are easy to find and walk, with this being one of them. “We’re happy to partner with the college and Friends on this venture. We see it as another way to tell the exciting story of Clare’s history,” Bradley said.
Gerry Schmiedeke said his Friends group got involved because the project promotes one the many recreational opportunities the county has available. “Many just think of the Pere Marquette bike trail [the trail runs through the southern portion of Clare County] as only rail-oriented pathway in the county. Now with this walking trail through the dense woods of the college, we have two completely different experiences to offer,” Schmedieke said. “And as funding in the public sector dries up, partnerships supporting recreational opportunities become more important.”
So, whether you interested in railroading, history or just a quiet walk in the woods, MMCC is the place for you. Simply stop by the new railroad kiosk before you head out. The kiosk is located just inside the gate at the south (Mannsiding) entrance to the college. It contains maps, photos and information.
Mid Michigan Community College provides post-secondary education and services to enable students to succeed in a global society and partners with the community for the benefit of its members. Learn more at midmich.edu.
The Clare County Historical Society has a museum complex at Dover and Eberhart roads that is open every Saturday through Oct. from 1 – 4 p.m. Learn more at clarecountyhistory.org.
Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation is an independent non-profit agency that works closely with Clare County Parks & Recreation Commission to improve recreational resources throughout the county. Learn more at clarecountyrecreation.org.
The organizations are also on Facebook.