JACKSON, Mich — A new nearly one mile long trail will connect the Middle School at Parkside and Sharp Park Academy to nearby neighborhoods.
The primary goal is safety for students.
The trail replaces an existing one on Elmdale Road in Ella Sharp Park running from South Jackson Street to Hickory Avenue. The new trail will be farther away from the road and be 10 feet wide. The project will also add a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on South Jackson Street and a bridge over the Grand River similar to the one at Lyons Park.
"Currently they're walking almost into the street with a very small sidewalk area" said Jackson Parks and Recreation Director Kelli Hoover. "So to update that and provide that safe route to school which is what we're all here for to the schools is extremely important."
A Safe Routes to School grant will provide $400,000 for the project. The total price tag is $1,198,600. City officials say the remaining $798,600 will come from city money earmarked for street, sidewalk and infrastructure improvements.
"As part of the Act 51 money we have to spend a certain percentage on non-motorized facilities each year," said City Engineer Jon Dowling. "So, people sit there and go, 'Well, why are you spending street money on this?' Well part of that is law."
Sharp Park Academy Principal Jasper Lusby said the project "impacts our entire community.
"We want to be able to have an active, healthy, fit student body and create some parent engagement to have the opportunity for outdoor recreation programs," she said. "We have a really rich trail system and we have a lot of opportunities to expand on that and make it really, really robust. That provides opportunities like walking field trips. It provides a lot of outdoor fitness like walking, biking, hiking opportunities for students and families alike."
Jackson Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Community Outreach Kriss Giannetti said the district surveyed parents and students about how they use transportation to get to school. A significant majority were not walking due to it being unsafe. The district found middle schoolers were using the existing trail system more often.
"This is not just about walking," Giannetti said. "It was also about traveling via bicycle for our kids, so trying to find out if students use bikes or would they if there was a path. And we did find there was a lot of interest that students did want to ride their bikes to school."
"We have a lot of before school activities. We did have clubs after school like sports," said eighth grade Parkside Associate Principal Krista Jarvey. "And, a lot of our kids don't have a ride home because parents are working the night shift, have two jobs or whatever it may be. We don't have transportation for after school sports. So, it's really important that our kids can walk home safely after these activities."
Which is being addressed through lighting on the new trail.
"They start so early. Most of the time of the year, it's dark in the morning," said Giannetti. "So, 6 a.m. 6:30, it's dark so that's huge. That's a big deal for us that the lighting will be a part of the project."
In 2020, Jackson saw "way more people in our community using our parks and trails for exercise because of the COVID pandemic," said public information officer Aaron Dimick. "A lot of gyms were closed for several months or maybe people don't feel comfortable going back to the gym. So, our parks and trails were there when they really needed them. This is just another great enhancement that we can provide, because the trail that is currently there is in a deteriorating condition."
The goal is to have the project completed by October with a majority of it finished in July.
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