By Liam Jackson
Capital News Service
As Michigan enters peak color season, local officials across the state have nominated the best roads for motorists to enjoy the changing foliage.
Peak Michigan colors were predicted to start Sept. 18 in the Upper Peninsula and end at the state’s southern border Oct. 29. The County Road Association of Michigan compiled the statewide list of “don’t miss” local roads.
The more than 120 roads span the state.
There are plenty to choose from.
Michigan has the nation’s fourth-largest local road system. County roads account for 90,000 miles of roads and 5,700 bridges. Although the road association puts the list together, it relies on county officials for scenic road nominations.
All county road commissions were asked what county roads they would recommend to people who are interested in breathtaking fall views, said Dustin Earley, the manager of communications and engagement with the County Road Association.
The association asks local commissioners to say, “Look, here’s my favorite road in my backyard,” Earley said.
“I just think as Michiganders we are really lucky because I’m not sure there is another state that is more beautiful in the fall,” said Maura Lamoreaux, the communications director for the Kent County Road Commission. “You can travel and just enjoy the colors of the season.”
Kent County has seven roads on the “don’t miss” list. Fallasburg Park Drive in Vergennes Township, 15 miles east of Grand Rapids, is one that stands out, Lamoreaux said..
“Fallasburg Park is not only a gorgeous ride, but it is also a beautiful park to take in the fall colors,” she said.
The park’s covered bridge is a registered historical site that celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.
“You kind of feel like you are traveling back in time a little bit,” Lamoreaux said. “There is a sign that says ‘You will be charged $5 for speeding,’ which is a replica of the original sign that was posted on the bridge.”
Kent County promotes a local route with fall scenic views that is hundreds of miles long, Lamoreaux said. The county picks a few stretches of road to add to the statewide list.
Chippewa County in the northeast part of the Upper Peninsula has four roads on the list.
The all-star route is Lakeshore Drive that runs along Lake Superior through the Bay Mills reservation between M-123 and Brimley, said Stephanie Boileau, a road design engineer for the Chippewa County Road Commission. “It doesn’t matter what time of year, it’s gorgeous.”
The route features Lake Superior, a tree canopy, the Bay Mills reservation, the Point Iroquois Lighthouse and multiple access points to beaches.
“It’s fantastic,” said Boileau. “It’s a road that makes you think, ‘Yes, this is why people love the Upper Peninsula so much.’”
When suggesting roads for the “don’t miss” list, she thinks about people looking to do fall color tours, Boileau said.
“We are looking for those deciduous hardwood trees, the ones that do turn color,” she said. “I also look at what other scenic opportunities you have besides trees. Is there interesting topography? Are there places to pull off and access recreational areas like a beach or state park?”
She prefers more rural areas and avoids submitting commuter routes.
“Peak color means that if you can make it to that area within that time frame, you are probably increasing your chances at getting the best views of that color,” Earley said. “Earlier, things are just coming on and near the end of that date the leaves are starting to turn brown and fall off the trees.”
The association lists the roads every year. It subtracts roads undergoing construction or if the county chooses to have it removed. But the list is growing, not shrinking, Earley said.
Tourists are not the only ones benefiting from scenic fall tours in Michigan.
“Most everyone benefits when we have a good fall color season,” said Tony Haller, the executive director of the Sault Area Chamber of Commerce. “Our restaurants benefit from it, our hotels benefit from it, all our convenience stores and gas stations get people filling up for gas while they make their tours.
“I couldn’t name a favorite, but that’s the beauty of this list. It’s really the experts of these areas that are helping us list these roads.”