Get off the couch — explore Michigan: Manistee Riverwalk

February 16, 2012


By JOAN YOUNG columnist


The winter continues to limp along, providing almost no opportunities for snowy recreation. At the same time, trails may be too soggy, or uneven with icy patches to be difficult to hike. Here’s one more possible option for a winter walk.

The Manistee Riverwalk stretches for 1.5 miles from just east of the US 31 bridge to the “stub breakwall,” on the south side of the Manistee River. Officially, it’s not plowed in winter, but with the lack of snow it’s all passable, although there were a couple of places of lumpy, icy snow to deal with when I hiked it last week.

Personally, I think this is one of the nicest urban walkways in the state. Whoever designed it was not hampered by engineer-brain which dictates that the cheapest path between two points is a straight line. The walkway surface varies between wood, brick and cement stretches. It changes levels often, and incorporates gardens, benches (and in summer, interpretive panels).

I would like to say that the riverside atmosphere is charming, and it has the potential to be. However, Manistee merchants haven’t yet taken full advantage of the options. There are a few shops with attractive facades on the Riverwalk, but it would be great to see even more. Of course, in winter, the open cafes aren’t so popular, but it’s still nice to be able to look at attractive decks and well-maintained buildings while walking along.

At the western end you get more of a sense of the loneliness of a riverside. There, the pathway is farther from houses and businesses, and the walkway becomes more like a bridge for some distance. Finally, the walk enters the First Street Beach Park, and becomes a sidewalk until it ends on the stub pier.

Plenty of ducks and gulls will accompany you on your travels, and provide comic antics for your enjoyment.

There are public restrooms, open year round at several locations on River Street (at the park at Spruce St., at Division St, and at the beach). The entire distance is handicap accessible. When the levels change there are usually both ramps and stairs.

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed at all, so if walking with your canine friend is important to you, this hike won’t work.

One winter safety concern that might not be obvious is that on cold days, frost gets into the wood, and as the day warms up the wood gets slippery. It wasn’t too bad, but I was a little more careful on wooden sections.

There is adequate, free parking at either end. And after you walk, you can shop or enjoy a snack atone of the many downtown stores or restaurants.

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