Traverse City News and Events

Brown Bridge Expansion on November Ballot

By Art Bukowski | Oct. 25, 2023

Traverse City residents could vote to add 528 acres to a beloved natural area in the upcoming election.

The Brown Bridge Quiet Area consists of roughly 1,300 acres of city-owned property along the Boardman River about 11 miles southeast of town. The city acquired the property more than 100 years ago and dammed the river there in 1921 to provide power. The acreage was designated as a natural area in the 1970s, and it became tremendously popular for outdoor recreation in the decades since.

Around the time the land was designated as a natural area, oil was discovered there. The proceeds were used to establish the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, which now has a balance of more than $11 million.

City voters on Nov. 7 will decide on two ballot measures designed to free up money from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund so it can be used to expand the natural area. If approved, the measures would allow $746,245 from that fund to be used as a required local match for a roughly $2.3 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF), which will cover most of the cost of buying more land.

The targeted expansion consists of two adjacent parcels totaling 528 acres, with a 43-acre lake and hundreds of acres of undisturbed forest. The natural significance of these parcels combined with their recreation potential excites proponents of the expansion.

“These types of opportunities just don’t come up that often,” says Mike Groleau, chairman of Friends of Brown Bridge Quiet Area. “Our area is under so much growth pressure, and the opportunity to preserve land like this that’s not only adjacent to existing parkland, but is also ecologically sensitive, is really exciting.”

The property has abundant wildlife – including nesting loons on the lake – and a variety of critical habitats. In addition to rolling forest, at least four distinct wetland types have been documented there.

“This has been on our radar for a very long time as being one of the most ecologically significant properties in our entire region, and certainly within the Boardman River watershed,” says Jennifer Jay, director of communications and outreach for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “It’s just second to none.”

GTRLC is helping the city acquire the properties and secure MNRTF funding. The MNRTF grants money earned from the sale or lease of state-owned mineral rights to local communities for the acquisition or improvement of land for public recreation. These grants almost always come with a requirement that the receiving municipality provide a local match. The MNRTF will make a decision on applications from the city and dozens of other municipalities in December.

“This is by no means a done deal. If that local match does not come from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, I don’t know where it will come from,” Jay says.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this proposal is it won’t cost taxpayers a dime, Groleau says, because the money will come from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund instead of a millage.

“In so many campaigns, you’re going out to voters and asking them to raise their taxes,” he says. “To be able to go out there and say that this won’t raise your taxes, that it will be funded by money set aside for these types of projects, definitely makes this unique. It really seems like a no-brainer.”

Groleau points out that both ballot questions must be approved in order for the initiative to be successful.

“One ballot question raises the cap on how much money can be allocated to any single project, and the other one allows the funding to go towards this project, and both have to pass," he says.

You can always view a sample of what’s on your ballot by clicking here.


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