Bob Wilson has been named Executive Director of Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance. Mr. Wilson brings over 30-years of experience in natural resources policy, environmental law and environmental policy and has a record of leadership in Michigan’s trails development. He has served on the Michigan Trailways Council, the Ingham County Park Board and has been a natural resources governance fellow at Michigan State University. Bob leaves his position as Senior Policy Advisor for the Michigan Senate Majority Policy Office where he worked to develop recommendations for natural resources policy for the Senate Republican Caucus. He remains an Adjunct Professor of Environmental Law at both Michigan State University and Western Michigan University and has taught American Government at North Central Michigan College. He received his BA and his MBA from Michigan State University, and his JD at Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is a licensed member of the Michigan Bar Association.
With a long history that helped to ensure the development of Michigan’s trail system, Wilson clearly has a passion for trails. In the ‘90s, he was the Policy Advisor for the Michigan Senate Majority Policy Office, where he developed recommendations for and helped to guide passage of the Michigan Trailways Act which provided for the foundation of a statewide system of trails designed to meet key standards. The standards would provide assurance to the public that the trail was accessible, well-operated, rules well-enforced, addressed concerns of adjacent property owners. The legislation also created the Michigan Trailways Council of which he was the chair taking public testimony on the issues of key trail development in the state. His most recent round of trail development policy was the revision of the Michigan Trailways Act in 2014 to include new concepts of Pure Michigan Trails, Pure Michigan Trail Towns and Pure Michigan Water Trails to help provide the recognition of the high quality of our trails and trail towns and to further encourage trail groups and city officials to work toward a standard of trail development that helps to ensure the public of a quality trail experience.
Wilson has historically worked to inform Senate caucus members to support key trail developments around the state, he shares “In the early years of trail policy, there were increased concerns for impact on property rights and property values and citizens around the state were often hesitant to support trails in their neighborhoods. We worked to address many of the concerns during the passage and implementation of the Michigan Trailways Act. Eventually key members of the Senate openly supported the development of early trails such as the Pere Marquette and Kal-Haven trails where they provided key political support.” With the rights of Michigan’s citizens in mind, Bob is currently working with the DNR to implement recent federal changes to the railbanking program into Michigan law and providing landowners with liability protection when volunteers are working on nearby trails.
Closer to home, as an avid trail runner in the Lansing area, Wilson was part of a Lansing-River Trail based running group that became an advocacy group to further develop the Lansing River Trail. He was selected to serve on a group to help promote expansion and use of the early stages of the Lansing River Trail. He recalls, “We worked to develop an Adopt a Trail program that would provide for a source of labor and support for the trail and helped to forge a group that would serve as safety monitors for trail use to help assure the public of the trail safety.” Wilson also came up with the idea to stage the first major running event on the River Trail—the Capital City River Run, which continues to this day. He was appointed to the Ingham County Park Board in the mid-90s and served on that board to oversee maintenance and development of the Park System—including support for nonmotorized trails at Burchfield and North Lake Lansing Park and the volunteer of the year award to help recognize key park volunteers as they worked to promote trail use.
In the Michigan Senate, he worked on several proposals that were signed into law to create volunteer liability protection when individuals participated in various activities associated with trail work—Adopt a Trail, Adopt a River, and Adopt a Park programs, he recollects “These efforts provided for a recognition program for volunteers, established standards for performance and provided civil liability protection for volunteers and helped to encourage a steadier stream of volunteers.”
Wilson has also worked on legislation to add the concept of Water Trails to the state’s growing trail system. The thought was that adding water trails would help to link the state’s major natural resources—lakes, rivers and streams to expand a trail user experience. He also saw an opportunity for funding and worked on the development of a legislative proposal that changed the way state parks were funded by creating a more-robust funding source, the Recreation Passport program. He also worked on the legislative package to create the State Park Endowment Fund, which serves to protect state park funding by placing the funds in a constitutionally-protected endowment. Gleaned from his experience working on the continued expansion of the state’s motorized trail system, Wilson also recognizes the need to create a trail system that accommodates both non-motorized and motorized uses where appropriate.
As a professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Bob has decades of experience as a trails educator. Through both policy and law classes, he teaches a land use module about the value of trails as a key method of enhancing the quality of life and preserving the natural features of a community. Bob states “I strongly believe in the importance of trails as a way for individuals to connect to a sense of place both from a natural resources and historical/cultural perspectives.”
Recent work with Senate Republican caucus on the revisions to the state’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program led Wilson to work with others to investigate the possibilities in the creation of a CCC program outside of state government to be run by a non-profit organization the way several current out of state CCC programs are administered. He explains, “Our thought was that we could marry the needs of our students and veterans to experience hands-on conservation work with the needs of conservation organizations for a ready source of labor. In the context of that package, we discussed the potential of working directly with local colleges and universities as they seek to provide an externship out in the field for their students with the needs of local trail groups.”
With financial experience including budget making and grants for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, on the annual Natural Resources Trust Fun appropriations, Wilson understands the needs of funding for non-profit organizations and the importance of proper business management.
Wilson leads an active lifestyle, he is an avid trail runner, open-water swimmer, cyclist, kayaker and triathlete. He has been an active runner since 1975 and has completed over 20 marathons and ultramarathons, including the Boston Marathon. He owned and operated a specialty running and triathlon shop in East Grand Rapids. In addition to his athletic achievements, Wilson recently reached an important milestone as a cancer survivor by celebrating 25-years cancer free. He has also served as Co-Director of the Kids Hope USA program for River Terrace Christian Reformed Church providing adult mentoring to at-risk students in area schools and has served as Head Cross Country Coach at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central.
Wilson is married to his wife of 18 years, Cathy and has four children Sarah, Aaron, Daniel and Bobby. They make their home in Okemos and have a summer cottage on Lake Charlevoix, where he frequents the Jordan River for kayaking. The Jordan River Pathway, nearby two-tracks and logging roads are popular trail run options for Wilson.
Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is a 501c3 non-profit and the statewide voice for non-motorized trail users, helping people build, connect and promote trails for a healthier and more prosperous Michigan. Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is affiliated with the Michigan Fitness Foundation, whose vision is to cultivate a culture of health to transform the status quo; improve the health of all Michiganders and to inspire active lifestyles and healthy food choices through education, environmental change, community events and policy leadership.