Traverse City News and Events

Improvements Eyed for West End Parking Lot, VASA Trailhead

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 6, 2023

Improvements could be on the way at two local popular recreational areas. Traverse City commissioners voted Monday to issue a request-for-proposals (RFP) to repair the long-damaged West End Beach parking lot, while Grand Traverse County Parks & Recreation commissioners are set to soon review a conceptual vision for nearly $911,000 in upgrades at the VASA Pathway Trailhead.

West End Beach Parking Lot
Erosion damage from high water levels in 2019 and 2020 rendered part of Traverse City’s West End Beach parking lot unusable the past several years – with the city ready to finally address the damage.

Interim City Manager Nate Geinzer told commissioners Monday he wanted “clear direction” from commissioners on how staff should move forward with the parking lot. Past boards have discussed options for the lot, but there hasn’t been a “clear consensus” on the best path forward, Geinzer said. “I don’t want staff guessing on what that intent is,” he said, adding: “It needs to be a vote.”

Geinzer outlined three potential options, one of which was just tearing out the parking lot. That could cost between $80,000 and $90,000, a price tag that doesn’t reflect any costs for putting in vegetation or making other improvements post-lot removal. Geinzer said removing the lot could affect the city’s credibility for future state grants. The city has received just over $200,000 in grant funding – with the city to provide a $200,000 match – to replace the West End Beach bathhouse with a new ADA-compliant facility and build brand-new public restrooms near the volleyball courts. The beach parking lot and ADA access were key parts of receiving that grant, Geinzer said.

The city could also pursue a green infrastructure repair project at the parking lot through Inhabitect at an estimated cost of $250,000 to $275,000, Geinzer said, or else consider an internal staff design to stabilize the shoreline with riprap, repair the damaged parking area, and soften the shoreline. Commissioner Heather Shaw wanted to ensure no geotextiles are used in the project, noting the plastic breaks down and could pollute the shoreline. “It sloughs up into this fluff,” she said. “It’s absolutely toxic, horrible stuff.” Shaw questioned whether the beach area is even used that often and if the parking lot should be prioritized, noting it’s in a floodplain. “It’s not the greatest beach in the world,” she said, advocating for preserving just a few parking spots and maintaining a drop-off area.

However, Mayor Amy Shamroe said she sees a “lot of families” at the beach, noting it’s well-used by the neighborhoods as well as downtown workers. Shamroe said preserving the lot and beach access was important given the ADA upgrades planned at the site. “We do not have a lot of access to our beautiful beaches here for people who have mobility issues,” she said. “I think that’s extremely important we keep that.”

After additional discussion, commissioners agreed on several elements they want included in the parking lot repair project. The city will likely reduce parking in the lot by half, but provide ADA spaces and restore unused areas to a natural state with native plants and natural stone. No geotextiles will be used at the site, commissioners agreed. City Planning Director Shawn Winter noted that the Michigan Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct the TART Trail between the parking lot and the travel lanes to separate the trail from the parking lot when it reconstructs Grandview Parkway/M-22 from Division Street to Cherry Bend Road in 2025.

Commissioners set a budget of $200,000 for the West End Beach parking lot repair project and voted to have staff issue a request-for-proposals (RFP), with a design and contract to be brought back to the board for future approval.

VASA Pathway Trailhead
Recreational improvements could also be coming to the east side of town. This or next month, Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation commissioners are set to review a conceptual vision (pictured, rendering) detailing nearly $911,000 in potential improvements to the VASA Pathway Trailhead in Williamsburg. The plan was guided by consulting firm Environmental Consulting & Technology and the Parks and Recreation Strategic Planning Subcommittee, with input from stakeholders ranging from TART Trails to VASA Ski Club to the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association.

The plan calls for paving the trailhead’s dirt parking lot; adding outdoor seating and gathering areas; enhancing the existing warming hut with more space, signage, and a fire pit; upgrading stormwater basins and adding bioswales; adding a level staging area with benches and bike/ski racks; adding a new trail archway and signage; and building a natural play area. A new proposed multi-use trail that can accommodate ski grooming equipment would also connect into the existing trail system.

The VASA trailhead is a 40-acre park owned by Grand Traverse County. Beyond that, the trail network extends into forest which is owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources but groomed by TART Trails by contract. Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Director John Chase says the new vision for the trailhead – which is still “purely conceptual” at this stage – is intended to make the park “more functional and inviting” for users. For example, the existing parking lot is uneven and often experiences erosion issues during rain events. “We’re looking at the stormwater retention and figuring out the best way to manage that and then ultimately pave the lot,” Chase says. “When you’ve got people in ski boots walking through a dirt and ice lot, it’s not great.”

Assuming Parks and Recreation commissioners support the VASA vision, Chase says the next step would be to work on a fundraising plan for the trailhead. A combination of capital funds, grant funds, and donations could help move the project forward. Fundraising will be a “joint effort between the county and TART,” Chase says.

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