Contest to name new cross-Michigan trail illustrates a state divided

Michigan officials are looking to name Detroit's most ambitious proposed trail project.
It's still just a proposal, but the trail would link Michigan all the way from Ironwood down to Detroit, linking hiking and bicycling trails to create a continuous route for cyclers and a similar one for cyclists, each more than 500 miles in length. It's an exciting project, and Michigan's Department of Natural Resources is getting the word out with this interesting bit of social media-savvy promotion: a contest to in which names will be looked at for their “creativity, originality, ability to capture the character of Michigan and the trail riding experience, effectiveness in promoting Michigan as a great place to hike and bike.”

That said, you could hardly find a more difficult project than to unite several of the most different (and often antagonistic to one another) parts of the state under one feel-good project. From the top on down, Michigan's different regions often view the relatively downstate areas with suspicion and contempt. The old joke in the U.P was that hikers would come up north with a fresh pair of underwear and a $20 bill — and change neither. Yoopers are also irritated when they're left out of maps or otherwise excluded by references to "the Mitten." People "Up North" view Detroit with their own fair share of fear and loathing, occupied as it is by so many former metro Detroiters for whom Hall Road was simply not far enough to escape the coming of sharia law to Sterling Heights. Even in metro Detroit, we have our own deep divisions, and it's likely Oakland County officials would rather the biking trail simply stop in their own environs, perhaps dumping them right at the Somerset Collection, aka "Downtown Michigan"). Finally, many Detroiters will be chagrinned that the trail takes cyclists and hikers onto Belle Isle, given the zero-tolerance enforcement there that has set tongues wagging in bars and barbershops.

Though it sounds like a nice idea to begin with, the truth is that the state is so politically fragmented that the trail is almost certain to get plenty of ineligible names as submissions — and just as likely to be known by many pejorative nicknames as soon as it opens. To Yoopers, it might be known at "The Troll Trail." To upstaters upset that they can't use their quads or snowmobiles on it, it may be called "The No-Mobile." For the rest of the downstate legs, insert any number of tasteless and derogatory references to Detroit's wealth of Arabic or African-American culture. For Detroit's blacks, it could be "The Footpath to the Fuzz." (Hey, that's just what we came up with in five minutes; given over to the creativity of Michigan's various chauvinist regions, the variations are sure to be endless.)

Let's reiterate: It sounds like a great project, and we're sure the winning name will evoke all sorts of feel-good associations sure to drum up those out-of-state tourist dollars. But it goes to show you what a house divided against itself our state really is.

Interested in submitting your idea? Click here to participate online, or view this PDF form and mail it in. The contest ends Oct. 13.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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