Scouting History – History of the Potawatomi Trail by Dave Eby
In 1957, during preparations for a backpacking trip to Philmont Scout Ranch by a scout named Glenn Seaver Jr. in the Portage Trails Council, it was determined that there were no suitable hiking trails to practice on in Michigan. Scouts had to travel to Indiana to use established trails in that area. The idea of a local hiking trail as well as the planning and obtaining of rights of way for a trail was initiated in 1957 by his father, Glenn Seaver Sr. and another Scouter named Jim Tompkins of the Potawatomi District in the Portage Trails Council. The district was made up of the city of Ypsilanti and surrounding area. The construction of the Potawatomi Trail was formally approved in an agreement between the State of Michigan and the Portage Trails Council, BSA in early 1962 and is recognized as the starting date of the trail even though it was not yet built. Construction began then and continued for two years into 1964. The trail committee had no money to work with so they borrowed $163 from the council for the original steel marker posts along the trail and painted them red. The official opening of the trail was held on May 23 and 24, 1964 when a council Spring camporee was held as the “Charter Day Hiker” event. The original trail was only about 12 to 14 miles or so in length and was extended in pieces over a number of years into the current 17 mile length. There was at one time a one acre spot along the trail owned by the Portage Trails Council that was used as a backpacking stopover campsite called “Devil’s Outpost”. It was near Hell, Michigan. Materials (telephone poles) for the first two bridges were sought from and donated by Michigan Bell Telephone Company as well as the use of heavy equipment and personnel to install and build one bridge. The materials for the second bridge were stolen before it was erected so the Glennbrook Rd plank bridge was used until the DNR built another footbridge nearby. There was a special 4" trail patch issued for the first group of hikers on the trail that is known as the "Charter Day Hiker" patch. They also sold the regular patch that inaugural weekend as well as the first trail medals. The basic design of the patch and medal remain unchanged to this day. There were 1,000 charter day patches ordered at a cost of $425 and 825 were sold that first weekend. There were also 1,000 of the original medals ordered with 500 being sold that weekend at $2 each and cost 93 cents each to make. The first winter hike occurred on January 13, 1968 and has continued every year since. The cost for that first winter hike was $.50 for the patch with the coffee and chocolate being provided free of charge by the trail committee. The starting point of the 1968 winter hike was the Scout camp. There was a special blue patch called the “Potawatomi Trail Worker" patch that was issued in 1967 and given to the Scouters and Scouts who helped install cedar posts along the trail that year to supplement the metal ones that had been originally installed. The trail was also extended to 15 miles in 1967. The original trail medal that was issued during the Charter Day weekend had a slot cut into the medallion for the ribbon to attach to. Later trail medals had the words "Portage Trails Council" cast into the back of the medal and used metal rings to attach the ribbon to the medallion. After the merger with the Wolverine Council in 1973, the back of the medallion was without any wording except for the name of the company that made the trail medals. There are a series of the 4" patches that have been issued with three different council names as well as special five mile hiker patches, winter hiker patches and the one trail medal that has remained unchanged except for minor variations. The trail is 17 miles in length and is maintained by a highly dedicated group of Scouters who comprise the trail committee. Over 66 different patches have been issued for hiking the trail since it opened in 1964. No neckerchiefs were ever issued for the trail
The land the trail traverses within was a hunting and fishing area for Native Americans for centuries. An ancient Indian campsite used by the Potawatomi Indians for eons in the spring and summer months, exists near the trail but the location is kept unpublished at the request of the DNR. The trail twice crosses Portage Creek which was a segment of an Indian canoe route that went across Michigan west to Lake Michigan before the water level was lowered by man made drainage systems. The Portage Trails Council took its name from this Indian canoe route
The amount of work and dedication that went into building the trail by the founding fathers is extraordinary to say the least. Glenn Seaver was truly a man with a mission. The trail continues to provide thousands of people with healthy, scenic recreation every year. It is a legacy left to us by trail founders Glenn Seaver, Jim Tompkins and Dave Brown as well as long time trail committee chairman John Kostelic and committee member Bill Baker, along with many others who have toiled over 40 years in maintaining and promoting the Potawatomi Trail.
This history was compiled and written by David L. Eby by researching trail records and through interviews with “Uncle” Bill Baker and Glenn Seaver Jr.