Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Fred Meijer and Rails-to-Trails

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 1994

At 14, Fred Meijer joined the new grocery store business of his parents, immigrants from Holland, and in 1962 he started building what would become known as superstores. By the time Meijer was finished he had 200 retail outlets and the fifteenth-largest private company in the nation. As he became a major donor in his home region of Michigan, one of his interests was to get Americans outdoors more often. So he provided steady funding for creation of the first rail-to-trail projects in his state.

In 1994, Meijer purchased a 42-mile stretch of abandoned CSX Railroad corridor and began converting it into a “linear park” open to the public. He also provided a Midwest Michigan Rail Trail Endowment Fund to cover future maintenance. The old trackbed threads voyagers through fields, woods, and small towns in the heart of Michigan farm country and one of America’s major potato-growing regions, where Fred Meijer grew up on his family dairy farm. The Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, completed in 2011, will eventually be part of a larger trail system stretching 125 miles—making it the fifth-largest continuous rail-trail in the nation.

During his lifetime, Fred Meijer donated about $10 million to rails-to-trails work. The Meijer Foundation remains an important funder of right-of-way acquisitions and construction costs. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which today has 150,000 members and a hand in 20,000 miles of pathways nationwide, has honored Fred Meijer as one of the pioneers of the rail-trail movement.