Cycling loses a major friend in Jeff Potter

Metro Detroit bicyclists and trail users have just lost a good friend as Oakland County Commissioner Jeff Potter (R-South Lyon) passed away this morning.

Jeff was a former mayor in South Lyon and very involved in the Huron Valley Trail (which connects South Lyon, Island Lake State Recreation Area, Kensington Metropark, and Wixom.)

This spring Jeff had shared with me a letter of support he’d written for the trail grant to expand the Huron Valley Trail over to West Bloomfield. One would be hard pressed to write a better letter of support. And in retrospect, it really shows Jeff’s thorough understanding of trails and their benefits from both a user and municipal perspective.

A favorite quote is, “…bike paths are not simply a resource for a small minority of bicycling enthusiasts and long distance riders, recognizable by their specialized gear (and physiques to match) but a valid transportation resource, and also a way to give our communities back to us from the dominance of the automobile and the outsize features which support it.”

While his support letter is long, it’s worth reading. It’s shown below in its entirety.

Rest in peace, Jeff Potter. We’ll miss you and continue to carry that torch.

Jeff Potter’s letter of support for the Wixom-Walled Lake-Commerce Trail:

I am a recreational user of our bike paths, and an avid proponent of their expansion, presently serving as the Oakland County Commissioner for Wixom and Walled Lake, who I understand are co-applicants for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for the purpose of acquisition of 5.33 miles of railroad right-of-way, leading through Commerce, to West Bloomfield.

My support for this project does not come casually. I was fortunate to have served as the Mayor of the City of South Lyon, when the original segment of the Huron Valley Trail was built, then as a City linear park for local recreational and pedestrian use, family strolling and healthful outdoor activity. Even then, the thought was that going ahead with this path would serve as a demonstration project, and a catalyst, beckoning our City’s neighbors with the idea of making this into a regional resource, (since the Metropark and similar destinations were beyond our control); and also to serve as an actual practical alternative to driving for trips, both local and commuting.

The idea which was advanced at the time, by the City, and our regional allies, was that bike paths are not simply a resource for a small minority of bicycling enthusiasts and long distance riders, recognizable by their specialized gear (and physiques to match) but a valid transportation resource, and also a way to give our communities back to us from the dominance of the automobile and the outsize features which support it.

Only too well, do I remember the concern of some, regarding the use of these pathways, for the potential disruption of their lifestyles, intimations of criminal activity, noise, littering, and other matters.

Today, this path stands in marked contrast to the Land of Broken Refrigerators— complete with suspicious-looking idling pickup trucks and four-wheelers—which preceded it. Our neighbors have since reached out to provide a route to the Metropark, and Island Lake, and to Wixom. And the Milford community has embraced this path as well, with their own extension, providing a northerly option, as well.

On any given day, this path is patrolled, in effect, by Senior citizens, alert, cell-phones at the ready, on their daily walks, some considerately picking up litter as they pass by. Groups of kids regularly use the path to make their ways to and from school; and the more committed recreational enthusiasts for a walk or jog to a nearby community.

Prior to the closing of the Wixom Ford Plant in 1997, I myself was able to use this for a daily 10-mile commute to work, obviating the need for specially-planned exercise, etc., as I was able to work it into my daily routine. This provided a safe and dependable alternative to the precarious route along the local mile-roads in the predawn darkness, and the crumbling edges, and narrow, low-lying shoulders they offered in the event of a need to escape oncoming traffic.

Many, many, times on my ride home in the afternoons, I was greeted by my South Lyon neighbors, venturing to escape the city and enjoy the peaceful rural environs, previously so close, but so inaccessible. These included residents of our senior complex, who would venture as far as Wixom on their coaster bikes, to enjoy some exercise and fresh air.

The concern and opposition melted away as the reality of this accomplishment took root. No significant incidents have been reported on our section of this path; and to the visitor it presents a compelling tableau of a peaceful, thriving community, and an inviting place to visit, or to make a home.

In fact, one national developer was compelled enough by the idea of connecting his subdivision to this path that he voluntarily contributed over $400,000 in path improvements to connect to it, including two bridges across city-owned wetlands.

Initial skepticism about the salability of homes directly on the path itself, have vanished, as some new residents were willing even to pay site premiums to be able to send their kids right out of the back door, for a safe walk to school or town, or to enjoy coffee on their decks, watching their neighbors parade on by.

This has been repeated several times across town as new residents clamor for this access and builders compete to provide it.

I am adding these personal observations, only because the proposed award can only build on the accomplishments and ample successes our neighbors have already created. The completed path will not only add to the safety and livability of our shared community; but when it is properly land marked and publicized, it will surely “turn heads” as a regional resource for recreational tourism, linking our many parks and communities, and supporting our many businesses connected to it.

Indeed, I remember, before the present Huron Valley Trail was extended to my community that my friends and I would travel to the KalHaven Trail, in western Michigan, to find a community which could afford us a 30-mile bike trip. It was common to see other residents of the Detroit Metro area in a similar pursuit; in fact, I would estimate them to comprise about half of those who had made this trip.

These will include Walled Lake’s downtown, with their recognized Main Street investments, Wixom’s Village Center Area, with residential condominiums already in place, and an emerging retail and restaurant sector, Lyon Township’s Downtown Development Area, including the new shopping center, downtown South Lyon, and Novi’s planned lakeside park, as well as Commerce Township. In addition, each of these feature, to a greater or lesser extent, development of local sidewalk and path systems to add to this path, or draw from it, serving literally hundreds of thousands of southeast Michigan residents, including Novi’s, whose very large population now has access by way of a pedestrian/bike capability thoughtfully added to the new MDOT bridge recently opened over I-96 in Wixom.

With the planned completion of this segment, the Department of Natural Resources will have generously afforded this same opportunity to our metro residents. Affording a trip from West Bloomfield, through Walled Lake and Wixom, skirting the Oakland County Park, and making a lakeside pass through Kensington and Island Lake, before proceeding to a destination and comfortable stroll or a meal in South Lyon, represents a challenge to the novice, and a route equal to the needs of most avid cyclists, seeking a route around which to form a weekend retreat, without leaving the area.

This will complete one of the few “missing links” that will serve to connect the cross state Michigan Airline Trail, which runs from South Haven (at Lake Michigan) to Port Huron (at Lake Huron). It will abut the West Bloomfield trail to the east, which recently was awarded MNRTF grant monies for acquisition and the Huron Valley Trail to the west.

Our communities have banded together to form the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trailway Management Council for the explicit purpose of acquisition of this railroad right-of -way and development of a trail on it. The Communities have drafted a regional master plan to reflect this goal, which is already a part of each of their Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Public support has been impressive, as well as support from the local Parks and Recreation Commissions, City Councils, Township Board, adjacent communities and Planning Commissions.

The Trailway will provide an additional recreational opportunity, natural viewing areas and connectivity not just between communities but to local businesses and parks. This 5.33 mile trail will also afford people an alternative to walking/running, etc… on or adjacent to busy public roads or taking hazardous short cuts. The Trailway will further our State’s goal of providing healthy recreation opportunities, and at the same time offer a low cost/no cost educational opportunity for school children to study and enjoy the abundance of natural features and local history. I strongly urge the Michigan Natural Resources and Environment Trust Fund board members to approve this important request for the funding of the Commerce, Walled Lake and Wixom Trail, and profusely thank them in advance.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey L. Potter

Oakland County Commissioner, District #8

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