The river walk… it seems so simple, but in one city, it’s so much more than that. It’s getting folks out of their houses, its bringing neighbors back in touch with one another, it’s providing quality time with the family, and it’s even burning a few calories. Old fashion outdoor entertainment has been replaced with networking in the privacy of your own home, on your computer, your IPhone or catching a show that was tivo’d. It’s sad but true, we have all fallen into that hi and bye cycle, gone in the morning and back in the evening. We live in a time when both spouses have to work, transport kids back and forth to sporting events, along with running errands here and there. We have lost the closeness of a family and a community; we don’t know our neighbors and we no longer make time for our family.
The good news is that several cities are catching onto a little secret getaway that may bring us back to that feeling of community once again. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the busy city life, close enough to your neighborhood that you can come home, park that car and hop on a trail. That same fifteen mile Portland river walk that leads us away from our homes can help lead us back to that hometown feel. Back to that long lost trail of peace, connection and community.
Most of us want to escape from the city at the end of the day or the end of the week. We want to get away from the bumper to bumper traffic, the flashing lights and the screaming sirens. We think to ourselves, I can’t wait to get home, pull into the garage, shut the door, and get away from all that hustle and the bustle. In The Front Porch, Chester McCovey describes the hustle and bustle as being “mostly traffic, radio, television, and a few quick transactions with strangers” (P.107). The majority of our time is spent in our automobile, chatting with a Bluetooth in our ear, windows up and the air-conditioner turned on high.
So it’s no wonder that we have moved inside and even use electronics to try to recreate nature indoors. We forgot that the real outdoors is still there, just waiting for us to remember and enjoy the real sounds and real interaction that we once had. The soothing sounds of flowing water, the birds singing a song, and the gentleness of the wind moving through leaves on the trees. Remember the sounds of children laughing and playing, a neighbor’s friendly hello, and the nostalgic ring of an old bicycle bell. These are all sounds that help us to relax, unwind, slow us down and usually will put us in a better state of mind. The same can be said for getting outside in the fresh air and getting the body moving; these are both proven methods of de-stressing the mind, body and soul. That’s why the combination of nature, a paved river walk, and a community go hand in hand or shall I say, step by step.
So as we take a step over to Portland, Michigan; known as the City of Two Rivers, and now for the fifteen-mile river walk that has been nicknamed the Trail of Two Rivers. This trail takes you back in time with its four historical bridges that cross over the Grand and Looking Glass Rivers. The history doesn’t stop there, but continues over an old railroad trestle bridge and three steel truss bridges. A perfect Michigan Fall season brings plenty of beautiful scenic colors from the maples and pines along the trail. The paved rail-trail serves as a spine for a series of connecting trails, loops and city paths that circle Portland for approximately 15 miles. The trail is suburban by location, but quiet enough to let you think you are in the country. The river walk was built and maintained by the Portland Parks and Recreation Department. The trail connects five schools and five parks, as described by TrailLink.com. Their website features over 160 river walks in the great state of Michigan, along with maps, trail user’s comments and ratings. For example, one user’s comment describing their experience; “This is a really enjoyable trail network and it was quite varied - a combination of neighborhoods, the trail along the river, and a section through woods.”
Another great way of bringing the community together is the recreation area of soccer and baseball fields that follows the trail along the Grand River. I found it so sentimental to find several beautiful benches donated and dedicated to a loved one; as seen on the brass plate marked into the bench. Stop at one of the picnic areas along the trail and do some fishing for smallmouth bass, perch or trout. Bring your sandwich and head off for a quick walk leading out of the inner city, away from the office for an enjoyable lunch break. If you need to work off some of that city stress, there are six workout stations at set points of the trail. The observation deck has benches along the inside, a nice hang out place for community residents to visit and catch up. In another area, the Boy Scouts built a beautiful gazebo where you can relax with a friend or use it as a backdrop for senior pictures. I have seen the community and schools work together on city wide river walk cleanup days. Local businesses benefit from the exposure of this paved trail, which also connects to the back entrance of several retail stores. Governor Granholm even paid a visit for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the grand opening of the river walk. The Portland river walk was voted the most romantic place in town and it’s easy to see why. I have witnessed firsthand the reconnecting of old friends, couples meeting up with other couples, and entire families coming out with all generations. I’ve seen new friendships being made along the trail, neighborhood kids riding bikes and scooters, and home bound people being brought out in wheelchairs.
What a great way to bring people back together, get a community back in shape and make for a friendly invitation to bring in new residents and build up the city. This is a simple solution at the perfect time to experience something we’ve needed but have been moving away from. A perfect fit for a period in time of high stress, a low entertainment budget, and an increasingly high obesity rate. It may even be the new front porch, the one that we all used to converse on, wave to a passerby, and hung out with our neighbors, friends, and family.
McCovey, Chester. The Composition of Everyday Life: The Front Porch. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 2010. 105-107. Print
"Portland Riverwalk". Traillink. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "n.d". Web. 14 July 2010.
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