City Talks Parks Projects
By Beth Milligan | May 11, 2018
Traverse City Parks and Recreation commissioners tackled several potential city parks projects Thursday – including a proposed parks ambassadors program, new kayak storage lockers for residents, a potential new fee structure at Hickory Hills Ski Area, and updates to the city’s bicycle/coaster and parks funding policies.
Friends of TC Parks
The city’s parks department could soon offer a new program aimed at creating a structure for city residents to volunteer for cleaning up and caring for city parks.
Friends of TC Parks would allow residents to sign up to be “ambassadors” for the city’s 34 parks, committing to help monitor, clean up, and improve their chosen parks – ranging from lakeside parks like Hull (pictured) and Clinch to neighborhood parks like F&M and Hannah to more sprawling properties like the Grand Traverse Commons. The city would offer training for ambassadors and could reward volunteers with special volunteer events, ambassador t-shirts, and other perks in exchange for their service. Parks Superintendent Derek Melville says residents interested in volunteering at city parks frequently contact his department, but the city lacks a formal structure for organizing volunteers.
“Without an established format or training program, it’s hard to plug people in,” says Melville. “We’ve been looking at this as a way to make the most of our volunteers.”
Northwestern Michigan College students assisted the parks department with creating t-shirt design options and an outline of ambassador roles and rules, which were reviewed by Parks and Recreation commissioners at their Thursday meeting. A smaller committee of commissioners will meet in the coming weeks to refine the ambassador rules and responsibilities ahead of a public rollout of the program.
Kayak Storage Lockers
Parks and Recreation commissioners are anticipating strong public response to a new kayak storage locker program launching this summer.
The parks department is planning by June to construct two kiosks capable of securely storing up to eight kayaks each: one on Boardman Lake near the west-side pavilion and one on West Grand Traverse Bay near the Traverse City Senior Center. The sixteen spaces will be made available to the public to rent on a seasonal basis. “The commission this winter asked us to look at adding kayak storage within some of our parks, which makes sense,” says Melville. “Because for example on Boardman Lake, there’s a nice kayak launch along the TART Trail, but it’s tough to get your kayak there. People might use their kayaks more frequently if they could reserve a space and keep their kayaks there.”
Melville told commissioners he’s still in the process of creating a fee structure for storage rentals, but noted the city is not allowed to make a profit on the program, so the rates will likely be reasonable and reflect the costs of building and maintaining the lockers. “They’re going to go very fast, I’m quite sure of it,” he said. Commissioners suggested making the rentals available to city residents first, and also using a lottery system to award storage spaces from the pool of interested renters when the program launches in the coming weeks.
Hickory Hills Ski Area Fees
While Parks and Recreation commissioners review fees at Hickory Hills Ski Area on an annual basis, this year’s review could result in more significant changes than usual thanks to major park improvements coming to the park, including the construction of a new ski lodge, four new ski slopes, a sledding hill, and nearly two miles of new Nordic skiing trails.
Melville tells The Ticker that while changes could result in price bumps for some park amenities, discussion will likely primarily focus on establishing rates for recreational offerings that haven’t existed before, such as the sledding hill. “We’re starting the (fee) discussion earlier this year, because I’m anticipating a longer discussion with these new opportunities,” he says.
Parks and Recreation commissioners Thursday instructed Melville to research fee structures at comparable parks in other cities – as well as local facilities, such as Mount Holiday – for discussion at their next meeting. Commissioner Matthew Ross said he wanted to see rates “remain affordable” at the city-owned park. “I don’t want to make a profit at the expense of increasing prices for kids and seniors…I want to keep it affordable for everybody," Ross said.
Finally, Parks and Recreation commissioners Thursday discussed potential changes to two different parks policies.
Commissioners voted unanimously to make a recommendation to the city commission to relax the city’s rules banning bicycles, skateboards, roller blades, and coaster toys in city parks. Melville told commissioners the ordinance, which was adopted in 1996, is “never enforced” and features an outdated and incomplete list of parks. Commissioners agreed that residents often use their bikes in areas the ordinance bans – such as the Clinch Park underpass – and are likely unaware when they’re breaking city rules. If approved by the city commission, the change would still ban skateboards and bikes on city steps, ramps, decks, walls, bike racks, railings, and landscaped areas, but would lift the ban on city parks.
Commissioners also plan to have continued discussions this year on the city’s funding policy for parks projects though the Brown Bridge Trust Parks Improvement Fund. Voters in 2014 approved capping the city’s Brown Bridge Trust Fund at $12 million and directing any additional oil and gas royalties that came in over the next five years into a dedicated fund for parks improvements. With the cap set to expire next year, both parks and city commissioners this year will discuss potentially going to voters next year to request an extension of the program. Parks and Recreation commissioners Thursday also discussed exploring a separate proposal to capture the interest generated by the fund and set it aside for one year to provide cash on-hand for parks projects and required matches for parks grants.