46.5476° N, 87.3956° W
Carol Fulsher, administrator of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail Authority based in Marquette, is a Superior Woman. The 47-mile long trail is the result of years of hard work and Fulsher’s efforts connecting communities. It is one of the largest trail systems of its kind in the state of Michigan.
Carol Fulsher understands the value of connections.
She’s spent the past several years connecting with people in the community in order to, quite literally, connect communities in Marquette County through construction of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.
As the administrator of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail Authority, Fulsher works in a one-person office and was initially charged with construction — and now maintenance — of a 47-mile, cross-county, multi-use trail system. While she is resourceful and knows how to find the wherewithal to assist on a project, her biggest resources are her own patience and determination.
In the early 2000s, as the part-time director for an existing non-motorized trail system, and manager of recreation development for the Lake Superior Community Partnership, Marquette County’s Economic Development Corporation, she seemed to be the right person to take on the task overseeing, selling, permitting, constructing and ultimately marketing a proposed trail system connecting western Marquette County to its eastern sector.
Her degree in marketing from Northern Michigan University was a start, and having some experience was helpful, but sometimes knowing what you don’t know can help to drive you in the right direction.
“I was in tourism marketing up to that point and didn’t have any background in writing articles of incorporation, bylaws, land swap paperwork, easements, or construction, or millages or a millage campaign,” she said. “But there was always someone who would teach me what I needed or take on the project.
“I am not an engineer, nor do I have the capacity to think like one. I have to work hard to understand blueprints and those kinds of things. I took a drafting class in high school and it wasn’t easy for me. Sometimes, I just have to believe in other people. “
So, armed with what she didn’t know, she was able to find people who did. Volunteers versed in construction, help from employees and representatives from Marquette County, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the U.S. National Parks consultants and many more were tapped by Fulsher for their expertise.
“Being able to pick up a phone and talk to people and get advice was critical,” she said.
A native of Ishpeming, located in the center of the Upper Peninsula, Fulsher said the trail idea also played into one of her passions, as well.
“I grew up riding bikes, used them for recreation and as transportation,” she explained. “I’ve lived in other areas where bike trails were available and felt passionate that we needed connections between communities here.”
Connecting the communities from west to east and east to west while telling the story of iron mining for recreational use by residents was something that she was determined to see through, but it’s the human connection to the trail and its use that couldn’t have been predicted.
“I love the story of a gentleman who didn’t drive, but would walk from his home in Marquette Township to the Valente Medical Center (in Ishpeming, a 15 mile walk) several times a week to see his wife using the trail,” she said “He loved the beauty and peacefulness of the trail.”
While residents may now take the trail for granted, the back story involves so much more. That’s why her determination, patience and resourcefulness were valuable.
“Sometimes, processes took a year, to a year and a half,” she said. “Patience and having several different plans were important. And when a road block came up, we either jumped higher than expected, or worked through it.”
And that could include an occasional meltdown.
“I did cry in the DNR office over a Land Use Order, which restricts types of uses on state-owned lands. It wasn’t coming through and our trail was almost built and I just broke down,” she recalls. “We finally got our Land Use Order from the Director. Just one of those items that we didn’t realize how long the process was.”
A frequent user of the trail herself, Fulsher has been on every inch of it, and she hasn’t been shy about seeking trail maintenance assistance from the resources closest to her — husband Jim, daughter Ali, and son Shane.
“They all have helped in various ways,” she said. “My husband is a sounding board and provides advice, especially in trail building and maintenance. Ali has provided photography and, in fact, one of her photos was the Rails to Trails ‘fan favorite’ photo and was in their calendar. Shane helps with maintenance items, such as putting up stop signs, painting benches, and installing plaques. They all helped with tree planting.”
So sometimes knowing what you don’t know is good, but knowing how to overcome what you don’t know and where to look for help is even more important. Using the resources available can allow you to help create something that has long lasting value to a community.
“I really don’t think of this as my legacy; it took a village of committed local folks with tools provided by state agencies to get it done,” she said. “I’m happy to have worked with a variety of people with different talents to bring this trail to life, and I just love to see so many people outside talking to each other, biking in groups, participating in events, training for marathons, visitors reading the signs, and families being active together.”
Now, with so much of this process behind her, she is in a position to be a resource herself.
“I’m always happy to help other trails because of all the help we received,” Fulsher said. “I’m a believer in ‘what goes around comes around.’”
To become a volunteer with the Iron Ore Heritage Trail Authority, visit the trail website at: www.ironoreheritage.com