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This Saturday it's time to seek out happy trails

Melissa Preddy
Special to The Detroit News

If you're antsy with cabin fever after a frozen, cooped-up winter, this weekend brings a surefire antidote: Opening Day.

No, not the one at the ballpark. The one on Michigan's 2,364 miles of recreational lanes transformed from repurposed railroad corridors and other property. Indeed, the state ranks No. 1 in the nation for the number of miles of former rail lines converted into trails.

The nonprofit Rails to Trails Conservancy picked Saturday for the 2015 kickoff that encourages people to get out and enjoy walking, biking and fresh air on the paths that make up the network's more than 30,000 miles of trails nationwide.

While most trails are open year-round, it takes an intrepid walker or biker to brave them in a Midwestern winter. "Sometimes we all just need an event to get us out on the trails and excited about the spring season," said Katie Harris, communications coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based conservancy. As an additional lure, pledging to hit the trails on Saturday at www.railstotrails.org enters you to win prizes like a Fuji bike or hiker's backpack.

Started in 1960s, the "ultimate recycling project," as Harris calls it, has grown through a patchwork of local, state, federal and grass-roots efforts into a wealth of reclaimed real estate that provides walkers and bikers with transportation and recreation alternatives to traditional roadways.

Promoting "active transportation," the trails aren't just outlets for leisure activities; Harris said. They also contribute to public health, economic development and environmental conservation, Harris said.

The conservancy — which doesn't own any trails, but provides advisory support to groups that establish and maintain trails — has tapped an annual Detroit bike ride as one of its 30 Opening Day events nationwide.

Tom Page, organizer of bicycling meetups in Detroit, has for a number of years conducted a late-March ride celebrating the end of winter. Part of the route covers the Dequindre Cut Greenway, a 1.3 mile pathway that runs from the Detroit River to the Eastern Market area, in a former Grand Trunk Railroad Trench.

"The Cut is one of the prime examples of what can happen through the rails-to-trails movement," said Page, who has ridden on trails from Boston to D.C. to Florida. "They're just fantastic — a tremendous resource."

To join the ride, show up at 10 a.m. in front of Wayne State University's Mackenzie House at Cass and Forest. There is no registration or fee required, but helmets are mandatory and Page discourages mobile phone use while the ride is in progress. In addition to the satisfaction of covering a 16-mile route (plus or minus depending on weather conditions and other factors), Page hopes you'll make a new pal.

"People have even gotten married after meeting on my rides," he said. "You'll make friends and learn about the city. We ride at a relaxed pace and we don't leave anyone behind."

Of course, the state's other 116 trails will be open as well, and you might be surprised to find out how close one is to your neighborhood.

Opening Day for Trails

Saturday

To locate a Michigan trail: Visit www.traillink.com; you can search by city, state, ZIP code or keyword. Or, download the TrailLink app for Android or iPhones.