Traverse City News and Events

GT County Parks Projects On Deck: Incubator Farm, Twin Lakes Changes, Senior Center Upgrades

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 15, 2021

Several new parks projects are underway at the Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Commission, including staff working to finalize a lease for the Grand Traverse Conservation District to start an incubator farm that would train young farmers at the Meyer property on Keystone Road. Parks and Recreation commissioners Thursday also approved an agreement for YouthWork – a program of Child and Family Services – to set up a permanent home base at Twin Lakes Park in exchange for fixing up county parks, and green-lit upgrades including new paint and an outdoor tent at the Traverse City Senior Center.

Incubator Farm at the Meyer Property
Northern Michigan may be known for its agriculture, but the industry here faces the same challenges unfolding nationwide: a growing attrition rate as retiring farmers leave behind their fields without successors in place. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers over the age of 65 now outnumber those under 35 by more than six to one, with young farmers facing obstacles include rising land costs, student loan debt, lack of training, and limited healthcare options.

The Grand Traverse Conservation District (GTCD) hopes to address that crisis by launching a new program called the Great Lakes Incubator Farm at the Meyer property on Keystone Road, located across from the Keystone Soccer Complex. The 15-acre property, purchased by the county in 2002, includes the historic Meyer house and several barns/outbuildings. Parks and Recreation is in the middle of negotiating a long-term lease with GTCD – likely 20 years, with the contract expected to soon come to commissioners for approval – to host the new Incubator Farm at the site. The program will give “young and upcoming farmers…the opportunity to learn how to farm and do it successfully,” according to GTCD Executive Director Koffi Kpachavi.

Kpachavi told Parks and Recreation commissioners in a presentation Thursday that the Incubator Farm will connect interested college graduates and young farmers with mentors, give them access to land and equipment to get practical hands-on training, and teach them business fundamentals from creating a business plan to marketing products to running a successful farm operation. “You need to have many parts lined up for (a farm) to work,” he said. The program will focus on regenerative agriculture and sustainable practices, with an emphasis on organic farming; Kpachavi said no toxic pesticides or other environmentally harmful products would be used on the property. GTCD hopes to begin site work on the property this year, with the Incubator Farm – which will be primarily funded through foundations, government grants, and community contributions – starting in spring 2022.

In addition to mentoring young farmers, Kpachavi said GTCD would also work on connecting program graduates with retiring local farmers or owners of fallow property in the region. The goal is to eliminate a key barrier to entering farming: land acquisition, he said. According to Kpachavi, the pandemic has made clear the importance of supporting local agriculture and working to attract more talent to the field. “Food systems are really crucial, so trying to get more people trying to grow food in this area is a good thing,” he said.

YouthWork Home at Twin Lakes
YouthWork, a program of Child and Family Services (CFS) that provides hands-on training for young people through park improvement projects and other nonprofit/government service initiatives, has a new home.

Parks and Recreation commissioners authorized staff Thursday to finalize an agreement with CFS to lease several unused sections of Twin Lakes Park as the YouthWork home base and offices. The three-year agreement will allow YouthWork to use the park caretakers’ quarters as office space, a portion of the Gilbert Lodge basement for shop space, additional storage and parking space on the property, and the lodge’s commercial kitchen. In lieu of cash payment for the $6,000 lease in 2021 (which will increase annually by 1.6 percent), YouthWork will complete improvement projects at different county-owned parks equal to the value of the lease.

“We would give them a list of park projects...and then they would go to different parks and do things for us,” explained Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Erickson, giving examples like removing invasive species, painting, and helping refurbish dorms or clean up the buried amphitheater at Twin Lakes. “It would be just wonderful to have them there and help steward Twin Lakes.”

Staff noted that YouthWork’s presence would not conflict with other public usage of the park – including event rentals that utilize the commercial kitchen – and could eventually expand new opportunities and amenities at the property. “There's a lot of potential here…we have a lot of great ideas for the future,” said YouthWork Program Director Amanda Scott.

Senior Center Upgrades
As more and more seniors get vaccinated, staff are hopeful that safe and socially distanced programming can soon resume at the Traverse City Senior Center – with some upgrades planned at the site to make it more welcoming.

Parks and Recreation commissioners agreed to contract with Dan Brady Painting Services for up to $15,000 to repaint the interior of the Senior Center on East Front Street. Staff noted in a report that “paint is peeling in some places, mismatched, and dirty” in the aging building and that “a fresh coat of paint throughout the entire building…will go a long way to show our network members and visitors that we care.” Parks and Recreation is on the hunt for a potential new long-term location for the Senior Center Network program, but staff said the county will likely be in the current building for at least two more years and wanted to offer a better environment for seniors. “We don't want them to be in an aged and dilapidated interior...especially after the year we've all had here,” agreed Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jalen Provo.

Commissioners also authorized staff to spend up to $5,000 to rent a large outdoor tent for the summer, which would be located on the north side of the property between the Senior Center building and the beach. The tent will allow the Senior Center to host socially distanced outdoor programming during the warmer weather months. Because the Senior Center property is city-owned, county staff conferred with city staff on both the paint and tent projects to get a green light before moving ahead with the proposals.

Pictured: Gilbert Lodge at Twin Lakes Park

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