Traverse City News and Events

Park Projects: Ribbon Cuttings For Nature Playscape & Holiday Woodlands, Planned Pickleball Courts, ARPA Priorities

By Beth Milligan | July 25, 2022

Two ribbon cuttings this week will commemorate the expansion of outdoor recreational opportunities in Grand Traverse County, including a new Natural Playscape at the Boardman River Nature Center and East Bay Township’s long-awaited closing on the Holiday Woodlands Natural Area. In other park news, Green Lake Township is eyeing new pickleball courts at Memorial Park and improvements at its recently acquired Camp Saki, while Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation commissioners have identified top priorities for park project requests from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

GTCD’s Nature Playscape at the Boardman River Nature Center
The Grand Traverse Conservation District (GTCD) will hold a public ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of a new Nature Playscape at the Boardman River Nature Center today (Monday) at 3pm at 1450 Cass Road.

The Nature Playscape is a natural free-play area where “children can interact with nature through sensory learning experiences by engaging with and manipulating diverse natural elements and materials,” according to GTCD. “The purpose of the Nature Playscape is to address the need in our community to provide a safe, engaging place for children to get outside and play.”

The playscape is made of natural components such as plants, sand, logs, water, rocks, and trees. Play amenities include a mud kitchen, ADA path, ADA-accessible eagle's nest, rock river, beaver dam, and climbable spider web, among others. The Nature Playscape will also feature new garden areas stocked with native plants, which will be planted this fall. The site will be used for GTCD educational programming and will be open to the public when not in use for classes.

According to former GTCD Education Director Taryn Carew, the playscape is “taking the place of a traditional playground.” She continues: “When you think of a playground, you think of plastic slides, big metal climbing sculptures, swings, things like that. But here we’re utilizing all the things that Mother Nature gives us to explore.” The Nature Playscape will encourage “tactile exploration” by offering places to hide, climb, roll down, and imaginatively interact with the space, according to Carew. “We feel there has never been a better time for a nature playscape for our youth,” she says. “We’re in a time where there’s constant change and uncertainty, and we all know the benefits of being outside…it’s a great way to get kids outside and reconnect to something bigger than them.”

Both the Natural Learning Initiative and the National Wildlife Federation have advocated for building more nature-based play spaces for children in communities. Research shows that when “when children play and learn in nature, they do so with more vigor, engagement, imagination, and cooperation than in wholly artificial environments, and that symptoms of attention deficit and depression are reduced,” according to the National Wildlife Federation. “Experts agree that children need access to nature the same way they need good nutrition and adequate sleep.”

Holiday Woodlands Natural Area
East Bay Township will celebrate the long-awaited closing on property for the Holiday Woodlands Natural Area with a 3pm ribbon cutting Thursday at the park’s Five Mile Road entrance, followed by 4pm hors d'oeuvres at the Mt. Holiday lodge.

The state approved a $584,800 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund in 2019 for East Bay Township to buy the 80-acre Holiday Woodlands Preserve on Five Mile Road (pictured) from a nonprofit group of local residents working to protect the property. The citizens' group was struggling to make payments on the mortgage and risked losing the property. The grant also allowed East Bay Township to purchase another 65 acres of natural land between the preserve and Mt. Holiday Ski Area, creating a combined 145-acre park called the Holiday Woodlands Natural Area.

Mt. Holiday – which uses part of the property for its Mud, Sweat, and Beers mountain bike race – has agreed to handle maintenance duties for the new natural area, while the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy agreed to raise nearly $100,000 as a match for the grant funds. The park is home to trails, creeks, wetlands, sand dunes, artesian springs, and forested areas, as well as over 100 different species of wildlife including deer, black bears, coyotes, owls, foxes, bald eagles, and wild turkeys.

Green Lake Township Parks
The exploding popularity of pickleball courts nationwide has reached Green Lake Township, which is looking to build four new courts at Memorial Park off Karlin Road. The township is working with the local nonprofit Memorial Park Pickleball Association (MPPA) to raise funds for the project, according to Township Supervisor Marvin Radtke. While an initial construction estimate came in at $162,000, Radtke says he recently obtained a lower local estimate of $92,000 and is now working on lining up funding sources to finish the project. Green Lake Township has committed $10,000 toward the courts, with MPPA fundraising efforts helping to raise the total committed funding amount to nearly $27,000. Radtke appeared before Grand Traverse County commissioners last week to share that he’d soon be seeking county funding support for the courts, which he said were requested by seniors at the county’s Senior Center Network. An open-air fitness court is also being considered for Memorial Park.

Green Lake Township is also working on improvements at the 500-acre Camp Sakakawea – nicknamed Camp Saki – which the township recently acquired through a $569,200 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, plus a $60,000 township match and $312,800 land value donation from Rotary Charities. “We want to try and keep it as natural as possible, with possible amenities like new trails, parking improvements, and perhaps a kayak launch facility,” says Radtke. Green Lake Township has also hired a full-time maintenance employee to help with upkeep at parks, including clearing trails and better defining public access pathways at Camp Saki – work planned to take place in the coming weeks.

ARPA Priorities
Finally, Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation commissioners recently unanimously approved a list of priorities for park funding requests, which will be submitted to county commissioners as they consider how to spend $18.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Pointing to results from a community survey where residents identified infrastructure as a top priority for ARPA spending, Parks and Recreation Director John Chase said the $1.875 million in park requests are infrastructure-focused and designed to “cut across the widest swath of users.”

Several requests focus on the Civic Center, which is used by approximately one million people annually. The biggest ticket item is completely replacing and regrading the park’s walking track, as well as adding an adjacent two-foot-wide crushed limestone path for runners. The request also calls for either regrading and improving the park’s pedestrian bridge to make it ADA-compliant or else completely removing it, which could allow for two-way vehicle traffic from Garfield Avenue and the installation of a pedestrian crosswalk. Upgrading the plumbing at Howe Arena and renovating the Civic Center parking lots are also on the funding request list. Restroom upgrades are also proposed throughout Grand Traverse County, including replacing aging facilities at multiple parks – and adding features like new partitions, baby changing stations, improved ventilation, and touchless fixtures – as well as adding year-round vault bathrooms at Medalie Park and Maple Bay Natural Area.

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