The hill was the type that reminded your legs how tired they were. But as I trudged, I still found myself taking in all the gold and green and blue around me.
Once a week, Albion College’s cross country teams would run on the Albion River Trail. We hopped on at Victory Park, took it to where the Held Equestrian Center’s fences ended and zigzagged through the forest behind Riverside Cemetery.
As the team ascended the trail’s long, gradual hill, we would unconsciously shift into a faster pace, a weirder conversation.
Around us, the wheatfields, grasses and forest would sway. And in the mornings, you would run through mist, pass by turkeys, hear horse whinnies and try to peer past the curtains of the old farmhouse nearby.
That stretch of trail came to be in 2017, when the City of Albion, Albion College and the Calhoun County Trailway Alliance made good on a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
This year, another $300,000 was secured from the Trust Fund. Soon, the trail will extend south down M-99, past the cemetery, past a wheelchair-accessible trailhead and past 40 acres of farmland-turned-grassland habitat.
The project will expand on Albion’s Trail Town status, a crossroads for the state’s Iron Belle Trail and Great Lake-to-Lake Trail and the nation’s North Country Trail.
The Trust Fund gave Albion a great place to recreate. It immersed residents into the pastoral and natural life within city limits. It protected those places. It literally brought town and college together. And it inspired users to be better stewards of our community and environment.
This is all to say, I like the Trust Fund, and I want it to continue the quiet, $1.2 billion-worth of work it has done since 1976.
That is why I am voting for Proposal 1.
Prop 1 changes the financial structure of the Trust Fund. That, in turn, makes sure our natural resources are protected and that everyone has access to them.
First, it ensures that, as long as oil and gas continue to be extracted from our lands, the resulting royalties – not our tax dollars – continue funding conservation through the Trust Fund.
Second, Prop 1 gives all communities a fair shake at securing the millions of dollars of funds it gives each year.
Right now, Trust Fund dollars usually go toward acquiring large parcels of land. That is fantastic and necessary.
But that leaves other communities that have less land to acquire and more land to make natural again at a disadvantage. Those are typically Black, Brown, urban, low-income and disabled communities, groups often unable to connect to nature due to travel costs, limited access or sly bigotry and gatekeeping.
Prop 1 shapes the Trust Fund so it favors acquiring land, making land more natural and making it more accessible. That helps connect all of Michigan’s people to nature and encourages us to better protect it.
The Albion River Trail has given all of us — residents and visitors — a chance to exercise, find solace during the pandemic or just take in the gold, green and blue.
When Prop 1 passes, we can continue to protect Albion’s natural places and connect people to them. And we can help other communities do the same.
Beau Brockett, ‘19, works in communications for Michigan Environmental Council, which endorses Proposal 1. At Albion College, Beau was a creative writing major, a Fordie and editor-in-chief of the Pleiad.