Inspiring Women at home and around the world
Note: This is the first installment in a feature series about Inspiring Women. It is dedicated to all women who are trying to make a difference and better other people’s lives, as well as their own. In putting together this feature series, I was inspired by several moments in life that in particular stand out.
No.1 A dedication of a Relax, mind, body & soul book by Barbara Heller from my son Jake: “I dedicate this to my inspiring and motivational mother.” Kuba
No. 2 While on a story prior to Mother’s Day, I dropped in at Ace Bernard Hardware to talk about the prizes with owner Charlie Bernard. We talked also about the Lowell Area Chamber and its director Liz Baker.
“You know what I like about Liz, she keeps re-inventing herself,” Bernard said.
No. 3 Again on a story prior to the International Women’s Day I talked to Sow Hope president Mary Dailey Brown.
“If you want to make a difference in this world, seriously consider helping impoverished women. Helping women is the key to unlocking poverty.”
No. 4 At a parents teacher conference at Cherry Creek Elementary in Lowell in mid 1990s: “Mrs. Pala, we do not give up,” teacher Karen Latva said.
Vestaburg woman leads in trail development
Name: Carolyn Kane
Position: chairperson of Friends of Fred Meijer River Valley Trails
Residence: Vestaburg, Michigan
Family: husband Dale, daughters Carol, Kim, Connie, and 14 great grandchildren
Hobbies & Interests: snowmobiling, family
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Vestaburg, MI- Working frantically on a $300,000 grant application from the Natural Resources Trust Fund with an April 1st deadline, Carolyn Kane can get a little stressed out.
Kane’s official title is the chairperson of the Friends of the Fred Meijer River Valley Trails. But her multiple tasks reach far beyond the title, along with the awards for spearheading the development of mid- Michigan trails since 1993.
“I was fortunate enough to retire young,” Kane said. “We planned well and had luck with our investments.”
Kane retired from GTE/Verizon at the age of 52 with an entire space of opportunities ahead of her. As a passionate snowmobiler, Kane was upset when she found out that the Heartland Trail didn’t go anywhere except from Elmdale to three miles outside of Greenville.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to have safe trails,” she said.
At, first, she was elected as secretary of the Friends of Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, and later Kane got involved with the Montcalm Economic Development Alliance.
“I’ve always been interested in recreational corridors and economic development,” she said.
Other than snowmobiling, Kane with husband Dale were avid motorcyclists riding through all but five states.
“Summer after summer we traveled in small groups and we had a wonderful time,” she said.
They also had a fifth wheel and a boat on Burt Lake at Indiana River.
All these were driving forces behind Carolyn’s extensive involvement with West Michigan Greenways Coalition.
“I am a person with a lot of interests,” she said. “I enjoy different things. I’ve never focused on just one thing.”
So, Kane made a natural switch from snowmobiles to trails.
Growing up on a farm near Owosso as the oldest of seven children, Kane learned to be an administrator responsible for her actions.
“I turned into a workaholic,” she said.
Since, Kane learned to take on responsibility early on in life, she also learned to plan for the future.
“When I say I am going to do it,” she said. “I do it. It still boggles my mind that I invite all these managers along the corridor and they show up.”
As a project coordinator, Kane has no qualms about calling people up whether for a meeting or for money.
One of her biggest achievements in spite of its delay was a trail project around St. John’s.
“We stayed the course, but there also has been a lot of interest in trails,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges was naming the trail from Lowell to Greenville because of the many municipalities involved.
“It took us three years. We had to come up with a compromise,” Kane said. “Greenville finally relented the Flat River in the name and it became the Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Trail.”
Today, Kane has four-drawer file cabinet full of trail stuff. It was donated by the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. In spite of numerous setbacks, she is motivated by the passion to get the trail done.
“People are so appreciative of what has transpired,” she said.
Over the years, the inflation has taken its toll on trail projects as well.
In 1994, the 42-mile Heartland trail corridor was purchased for $245,000, as opposed to the 37.5-mile corridor from Ionia to Greenville for $2.3 million.
The 82-mile long trail from Greenville to Owosso with a price tag of $12 million is all but complete except for 26 miles.
However, there are still gaps between different communities that would complete the 7th longest trail in the USA. The 125-mile long Fred Meijer Mid-Michigan Trail Network will ultimately connect Greenville to Owosso going through Michigan heartland and farmlands.
These unfinished gaps have become Kane’s biggest fear. When asked what she is afraid of Kane responded:
“Failing to complete this project! Just imagine 52 miles from Owosso to Saranac and from Greenville to Alma at 42 miles, a gaping hole from Greenville to Belding which is 2.2 miles, and Belding to Lowell another BIG gaping hole 14 miles. My image and/or reputation would be destroyed! Certainly, I would not be inspiring!”
Now, that response is typical for hard-driving Kane. Often, she comes into the meetings hauling in binders of trail documents in mid- winter, when others fail to show up. At other time she runs into a deer on her way to an evening meeting 90 miles from home.
Kane also faces chronic complainers with unsubstantiated whining:
“Oh, the trail will bring in crime and trash,” many complained.
“What about the deer on the trails,” others worried.
And then came the biggie: the Federal Lawsuit over the easements of the adjacent owners of the rail trail.
“Michigan has never dealt with something like this,” she said. “Going through the process was fearful. Other states lost the corridor.”
After a long battle, the trail group was able to preserve the corridor and the adjacent land owners were compensated for taking of the property, but they had to have deeds. A handful remains to be resolved.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you say I can,” Kane said. “My husband always says, if there is something you can’t get done, give it to Carolyn.”
Carolyn is amazed at the recognition she received for more than two decades of trail work.
2009 Mid America Trails award for trail work
2011 DNR Partners in conservation award for advancing Rail to Trail work
“I’ve made up my mind, if it’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s going to be up to me. I’ll stay with it until I get it done.”
But, other factors such as health come into play as time goes by.
“I am not going to put my health at risk to get it done, even though I am anxious to complete everything.”
Kane puts in anywhere from 25 to 30 hours a week, and that is without pay.
“How about goals and role models?” I asked.
“As you get older, the long term goals are not as important as they used to be,” Kane said.
“My immediate goal is to get the funding in place and go back to the Belding project,” she said.
Barbara Nelson Jameson with National Parks Service has always been a role model for Kane.
“When I grow up I want to be like Barbara,” Kane said to herself at the first meeting of the Heartland Trail. “She was eloquent in anything she did.”
The other one was Roger Sabine with Kent County Parks.
“He is really someone I can trust,” she said.
Kane is especially proud of being chosen as the National Rail Trail Champion by Rails Trails Conservancy in Washington DC in 2011.
Carolyn Kane, the woman behind the superwoman
Emma: What makes you feel good about yourself?
Carolyn: Making time for grandchildren and great grandchildren, just doing things with them. They all have snowmobiles. Pulling them around and getting some chocolate.
Emma: What do you do for yourself?
Carolyn: My family has always been number one. I enjoy spending time with them, picking them up from McDonald’s.
Emma: How do juggle work and family?
Carolyn: Balance. There are things that you have to give and take. You have to make decisions. The clean house doesn’t seem as important as 50 years ago.
Emma: Do you prioritize?
Carolyn: I manage to set priorities, but they change, when grand babies come. Life changes you get a different perspective and you have fun with it.
Emma: What keeps you going?
Carolyn: I am very happily married. At this stage in life it makes a difference. I am blessed with a wonderful family.
Emma: What is your inspiration?
Carolyn: The Lord wanted me to do this, he has directed me and helps me stay the course. I don’t get to give up. I keep coming back to the target.”
Emma: Tips and advice for other women.
Carolyn: The key is balance and keeping things in perspective.
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