Traverse City News and Events

Nearly $2.8 Million In Park Grants Announced For Grand Traverse Region

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 4, 2020

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board selected seven northern Michigan park and outdoor projects this week to receive nearly $2.8 million in grant funding – an infusion that will allow Green Lake Township to acquire the former Camp Sakakawea on Bass Lake, Benzie County to expand the Railroad Point Natural Area, and local communities to make significant improvements at Union Street Dam Park/FishPass, Discovery Pier, Arbutus Lake #5 Park, Elberta Beach, and the Torch River Bridge boating access site. The funding recommendations now head to the state legislature for inclusion in an appropriation bill that will go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer to sign into law in late winter or early spring.

The Ticker has an overview of each of the local park projects recommended for funding, with local leaders weighing in on plans and how grant dollars will impact their communities.

Green Lake Township – Bass Lake Saki Property Acquisition
Grant Amount: $569,200
Project Description: Green Lake Township is poised to receive its first state grant for property acquisition since 1976, according to Township Supervisor Marvin Radtke. The over half-million Trust Fund grant – combined with a $60,000 township match and $312,800 land value donation from Rotary Charities – will allow Green Lake Township to acquire the 515-acre property that formerly housed Camp Sakakawea (or Camp Saki, as locals fondly call it).

The site includes 3,800 feet of Bass Lake frontage and 1,000 feet of Saunders Lake frontage, in addition to hundreds of acres of high-quality wetlands. Radtke says the township plans to use the site as a public park for passive recreation, including trails, signage, and platforms for hunting and wildlife observation. “I was really ecstatic (to hear the funding news),” Radtke says. “I am grateful for Rotary and (Deputy Supervisor) Lisa Leedy, because she is the one that drove this grant project.”

City of Traverse City – Union Street Dam Park/FishPass Improvements
Grant Amount: $300,000
Project Description: One of the final pieces in the funding puzzle to complete FishPass – the new research and restoration project replacing the aging Union Street Dam in downtown Traverse City – is now in place with a $300,000 Trust Fund grant dedicated to public park improvements at the site. Planned amenities include kayak landings both up and downstream of the new dam and a connecting rail between them, ADA-compliant boat landings, a step-stone access down to the river, new boardwalk, benches, trash bins, landscaping, and bike racks.

“We are thrilled that this was awarded,” says City Manager Marty Colburn, citing improved access to the water for individuals with disabilities as well as recreational “amenities for the public, which have been demonstrated (to be) so vital during this pandemic.” Daniel Zielinski of FishPass project partner Great Lakes Fishery Commission notes the park improvements will be among the final changes made to the site – likely in 2022 – following the construction of the new dam and removal of the old dam.

East Bay Township – Arbutus Lake No. 5 Park Improvements
Grant Amount: $300,000
Project Description: One of East Bay’s “most beloved” and visited year-round parks is poised for a major makeover, according to Township Supervisor Beth Friend. A $300,000 Trust Fund grant will allow the township to bring universal accessibility to Arbutus Lake No. 5 Park, relocating the current fishing pier to an improved spot down at the park point and installing a universally accessible kayak launch and pathways. Other planned improvements include new bathrooms with a changing area, parking upgrades, native landscaping, footbridge repairs, fencing, and new fish habitat.

“For universal accessibility, it’s not just factoring for a wheelchair,” explains Friend. “It is taking it one step further. It could be for a senior citizen who just had hip surgery, or is using a walker. It’s giving people (with accessibility challenges) not just one place to be, but a choice of places to be. So all the amenities will be focused on that.”

Elmwood Township – Discovery Pier Access Development
Grant Amount: $300,000
Project Description: Discovery Center Great Lakes, the nonprofit organization that operates Discovery Pier on West Grand Traverse Bay in Elmwood Township, received two pieces of good news this week. Not only was Discovery Pier selected for a $300,000 Trust Fund grant, but was also awarded a $295,000 grant from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust. The nearly $600,000 in combined funding marks the launch of Discovery Center’s campaign to transform the waterfront property.

Plans include stormwater infrastructure improvements – mitigating pier flooding that often occurs now during rain events – and installing a universally accessible kayak launch, restrooms, parking, lawn/green space, and a 12-foot-wide promenade around the pier. Discovery Center CEO Matt McDonough says the group also plans to replace the pier’s eastern railing with a fishing railing featuring forearm rests and rod holders – including a lower railing for children and those with disabilities – and will add shade structures with picnic tables and benches underneath. McDonough says Discovery Center aims to raise another $1.1 million in the next year for the project, with construction planned for winter 2022 ahead of a targeted summer 2022 opening.

Benzie County – Railroad Point Natural Area Cole Expansion
Grant Amount: $718,900
Project Description: The largest northern Michigan grant announced in this cycle of Trust Fund grants will allow Benzie County to acquire a “critical” 9.34-acre inholding at the Railroad Point Natural Area, according to Jennifer Jay of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC), which helps manage the site and has raised funds for several past expansions. The waterfront Cole parcel (pictured) sits between Crystal Lake and the Betsie Valley Trail and currently divides sections of Railroad Point Natural Area, which will now be unified into one cohesive site. GTRLC has only $85,203 left to raise to complete the acquisition, with plans to turn the property over to Benzie County.

“The property has been highly desired by the county and us for a really long time,” says Jay. “Our efforts at Railroad Point Natural Area have been about protecting the water quality of Crystal Lake. When you fill in the gap with this piece, it creates 4,300 feet of contiguous protected waterfront open to the public on Crystal Lake. That’s amazing.”

Also in Benzie County, the village of Elberta was awarded $300,000 by the Trust Fund board for improvements to Elberta Beach on Lake Michigan, an undeveloped beach south of Frankfort Harbor. The grant will allow the village to construct a new parking area, picnic pavilions, universally accessible restrooms, and a pathway to the Elberta pier.

DNR/Parks & Recreation Division in Antrim County – Torch River Bridge Boating Access Site Redevelopment
Grant Amount: $300,000
Project Description: Finally, the Parks and Recreation Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources successfully applied for a $300,000 Trust Fund grant to make improvements to the boating access site at the Torch River Bridge on recently acquired property next to the site. According to application documents, the proposed redevelopment “will include the demolition of existing building structures on the recently acquired property and parking lot development. The new parking lot will be paved and allow for additional parking and stacking space for the site.” Conceptual renderings submitted with the application show 18 trailer parking spaces in the redesigned boating access area.

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