Over the past two centuries the Bear River Valley has seen many changes:
Prior to the early 1800’s: For most of its geological past the Bear River was a wild, natural eco system.
1850’s: By the mid-19th century, the era of the timber boom, the river became the industrial center of the community as logging interest constructed mill ponds, saw mills, shingle mills and other related businesses to capitalize on the lumber industry. Railway systems crisscrossed the river valley and five individual dams were constructed, the largest being the Mitchell Dam, which was constructed in 1901 and expanded for electrical power generators in 1933. In 1973 the turbine generator systems were removed.
1970’s: By the early 1970’s three of the five dams located within the City had been removed and the river was healing itself as vegetation and trees were again naturalizing the valley. The newly founded Little Traverse Bay by Kiwanis Club, looking for a recognition project, envisioned that a bike path could be constructed the length of the valley connecting Pioneer Park (Bayfront Park), the West Side Rink near Branch Street and extending to Sheridan Street on the south. The group was unsuccessful in getting the trail developed but it provided the impetus that lead to development of the Little Traverse Wheelway. Community planners during this era began to envision the potential of the Bear River Valley as a viable park and in 1974 the United Associate of Cheboygan, at the City’s request, developed the City’s first comprehensive master plan for the river valley entitled “Proposed Bear River Parks and Recreation Program”.
1985: In 1985, the voters approved the Tax Increment Financial Plan – Development Plan and the Bear River Valley Recreation Area was one of the major projects identified within that plan and in 1988 the Parks and Recreation Master Plan and subsequent updates continued to refine the design features within the Bear River Valley Recreation Area.
1990’s: In 1990, the City began preparations to remove the last two dams on the Bear River that being the Mitchell Dam and the Turbine raceway located between City Hall and the Public Safety Apparatus Building. In 1992, the two structures were removed and the Bear River above Lake Street returned to its natural stream channel and the river continued to heal itself.
2008: The 2008-2013 Master Plan contained a detailed plan for the Bear River Valley Recreation Area that was presented at several public meetings. It was this plan that allowed for the development of detailed plans and specifications that would allow the project to be let out to bid.
2010: The project was authorized by City Council in early 2010 along with bond sales to finance the project. Work began on the project in May 2010 with major elements completed in May 2011. The project extends from Lake Street to Riverbend Park, a distance of 1.5 miles.