Sometimes seemingly small things can have a big impact on one’s life.
New Top of Michigan Trails Council Executive Director Brent Bolin grew up playing in the creeks around his childhood home in Cleveland, Ohio. As a high schooler there, his appreciation for the water nurtured a keen interest in environmental issues.
Bolin, now 43, kept the ball rolling in that direction, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and public administration. Those certifications, coupled with his articulate, youthful enthusiasm for clean water and a healthy environment, earned him a position as a project manager at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) – a great job in the Washington D.C. metro area.
But, after five years at NIH, his thirst for clean, public water wasn’t getting quenched. He did a brief advocacy stint with a small Maryland watershed group before moving on to the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, where he did statewide clean water advocacy.
After that, Bolin became Chesapeake regional director for Clean Water Action (CWA), his last job before accepting the Trails Council’s offer. A part of the Chesapeake Bay clean-up movement, CWA had Bolin overseeing campaigns and community organizing in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, with a focus on pesticides, environmental justice, and polluted runoff.
In the last few years, Bolin, a husband and father of one, wore two CWA hats: Chesapeake regional director and national political director.
So, what brings Bolin to Northern Michigan?
Well, for starters, his wife, Danielle, is a Gaylord native, whom he met while in graduate school at Indiana University. The Bolins and their eight-year-old son, David, have visited the Petoskey area annually for the last few years and they’ve been looking for the right opportunity to move north – a change that is perhaps a little bittersweet for the new director.
“We’ve been wanting to move up here for a while,” Bolin, a rec league hockey player, home brewer and punk rock fan, said. “It feels like a dream come true to have found a really cool job that’s gonna make that happen for us.”
But, he’ll will be sacrificing one of his great loves when moves up here: professional baseball. “I’m a big baseball fan,” Bolin laughed. “Honestly, not being able to go to 10 or 15 Major League Baseball games a year is probably the biggest downside to the Petoskey move.”
Other than that, Bolin and Co. are ready and “really excited” about their Petoskey home, which they hope to move into later this month. Also, as a cyclist and runner, Bolin said he is excited about riding the very same local trails and paths that he and other Trails Council officials develop and oversee.
“Our trails are great and the network is amazing,” he said. “You can go from lake to lake. You can go to Mackinaw City … and you do it all on off-road on protected rail-trails. People can do day-long cycling trips or short hikes, or really long-haul stuff. There are so many bike touring and bikepacking opportunities. It’s really amazing that we have such a mix of things to offer tourists, but also to locals. After all, these trails are great economic development opportunities for some of the smaller towns.”
Continuing to develop the trails network, while maintaining and repairing existing routes, will be a main focus for Bolin, who implores trail users to communicate with Trails Council staff members about their wants, needs, complaints and praise.
“We want to know what people think, what they’re looking for,” Bolin explained. “That’s really important to me and to the organization. I see that the trails are really viewed as bicycle facilities. They are that, but, especially in town, there are lots of other users. There are dog walkers and runners, etc. Our trails constitute a multi-use network. We love to hear from people about how they feel. Are the different needs being met and balanced? We want to know.”
Bolin said the Trails Council recently completed a Trail Towns Action Plan that, basically, “looked at what we can do to improve our existing network and what additional connections we might install in next 10 to 20 years. The plan gives us a pretty good road map for that.”
Another issue Bolin would like to address is the inherently north-south nature of Trails Council thoroughfares. “It would be great to have an east-west connector between Petoskey, Boyne City and Gaylord,” he said. “Our trails are very north-south and not very east-west. Long-term, we’d like to figure out a way to get to Gaylord. But, there isn’t an obvious way to do that.”
Such a route, Bolin said, will provide additional connectivity to area towns and parks and make the trails network better for bike touring. “Hopefully, circulation within our network will increase and help capture some of that traffic from Gaylord – because Gaylord has become such a huge jumping off point for Northern Michigan,” he said.
“None of this is a done deal or written in stone,” Bolin reminded. “But, there needs to be a bigger push.”
He also noted that a connection between Charlevoix and Traverse City is on the Trails Council radar as well.
Bolin wasn’t afraid to address the proverbial elephant the room: the massive collapse of the Little Traverse Wheelway between Magnus Park and East Park.
“We’re talking to the city of Petoskey about that,” he said. “That portion of the trail is closed for the foreseeable future. This will be a multi-year project.”
There is currently no detour between the two parks. Until a better solution is found, Bolin encouraged people to drive their bikes to East Park, rather than riding their bicycles on U.S. 31 to East Park from Petoskey.
To communicate with Brent Bolin, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.