Traverse City News and Events

State Board Approves $2.3M Grant for Brown Bridge Expansion; GO-REC Property Hits Market

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 14, 2023

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board approved a $2,352,200 grant application from the City of Traverse City Wednesday to acquire 528 acres to expand the Brown Bridge Quiet Area (BBQA). Those funds – plus a $746,245 match from the city’s Brown Bridge Trust Fund authorized by voters in November – will add a 43-acre lake and hundreds of acres of undisturbed forest to the city park. Meanwhile, Rotary Camps & Services has listed 200 acres for sale directly next to the BBQA expansion area – including the former Camp Greilick and GO-REC site – for $3.25 million.

Grant approval from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board for the BBQA project was crucial to allowing the acquisition to move forward. The board’s funding recommendation Wednesday now heads to the legislature and Governor Gretchen Whitmer for final approval, a process that will likely be finalized in mid-2024. Traverse City voters in November approved two tie-barred ballot proposals to support the property expansion. One of those proposals asked for voter approval to tap into the Brown Bridge Trust Fund to access $746,245 to use as a local match for the state grant. The current fund balance sits at over $12 million. The second proposal amended a 2019 stipulation stating that no single allocation to a city park project or acquisition can exceed $250,000. More than 85 percent of voters supported both proposals.

Funding approval from voters and the state means the city can now acquire 228 acres owned by the Elmer J. Mueller Land Trust – including Spring Lake – and another 300 acres that comprise the southern half of a large property owned by Rotary Camps & Services. Both properties are directly north of the current BBQA boundaries (pictured, map). The BBQA will expand from 1,310 acres to 1,838 acres – a nearly 40 percent increase. “We are thrilled to have been awarded this grant,” says Traverse City Mayor Amy Shamroe. “The Brown Bridge Quiet Area has stood as a testament to our commitment to preserving natural beauty and fostering a haven for quiet recreation. This expansion is not just an acquisition of land; it's an investment in our community's wellbeing and the preservation of our natural heritage for generations to come.”

The fair market value of the Spring Lake property is $2.75 million, while the Rotary property is valued at $300,000. However, Rotary offered to sell its property to the city for just $150,000. Because of the ability to use Rotary’s donated property value as part of the city’s funding match, the amount out of pocket for Traverse City to acquire both properties – $746,245 – was less than the match amount to acquire Spring Lake alone ($800,930). The state grant will cover the remaining acquisition cost. The city was assisted in the grant process by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC).

The new BBQA property has abundant wildlife – including nesting loons on the lake – and a variety of critical habitats. In addition to rolling forest, at least four distinct wetland types have been documented there. “This has been on our radar for a very long time as being one of the most ecologically significant properties in our entire region, and certainly within the Boardman River watershed,” GTRLC Director of Communications and Outreach Jennifer Jay previously told The Ticker. “It’s just second to none.”

Other changes could be coming soon near the BBQA expansion site. Rotary Camps & Services this week listed its remaining 200-acre parcel directly to the north – encompassing most of the buildings and infrastructure for the former Camp Greilick and GO-REC site – for sale for $3.25 million with Douglas Meteyer of Keller Williams. The listing includes 3,300 feet of water frontage on Rennie Lake, Spider Lake, and Bass Lake, a large dining hall with commercial kitchen, and several year-round residences totaling 18,617 square feet. An additional 8,017 square feet of summer-use cabins and buildings are also included in the real estate package.

A conservation easement on the property restricts some of the options for the site, according to Rotary Camps & Services Executive Director Matt McDonough. The land can’t be divided – explaining why all 200 acres are for sale as one parcel – and the property’s natural features are protected from development. However, the easement did contemplate potential expansion on the site – such as the addition of more buildings – and allows for some commercial uses, like campgrounds.

Five parties have already expressed interest in the property since the listing went live this week, McDonough says. There are a range of potential uses that could likely fit the site, he notes. “It could become a private estate for a single buyer who wants to have a large private property and a house on the lake,” he says. “It could be a private hunting club, or a campground, or a park.” To the latter point, Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation is “kicking the tires” on a theoretical acquisition of the property as a county park, McDonough says. Parks and Recreation Director John Chase confirms the department is evaluating the site as “something of interest,” though adds the county is nowhere near pulling the trigger on a deal.

“What we would look at is its value to the community from a recreational standpoint and how we could use it to further recreation in the county,” he says. Parks and Recreation would have to undertake a “whole evaluation of the condition of the property” before moving forward, Chase says. If there’s a “valid case” to be made for Grand Traverse County acquiring the property, that proposal – and a funding plan – would have to go to county officials for approval, Chase notes.

Having the expanded Brown Bridge Quiet Area next door will be an added bonus for anybody looking to buy the site, McDonough believes. “Any time you have a real estate listing next to protected property, it’s always a selling point,” he says. “I think it'll be a benefit, and there's some synergy there if the county wants to buy it.” The property sale is bittersweet for McDonough, as Rotary has owned the site for almost a century – with the Boy Scouts operating a beloved camp there for decades. McDonough and his team tried to revive the property for community use in recent years, but ran into neighbor and township board opposition to some aspects of the plans – such as having weddings and events – that McDonough says were crucial to operating the site sustainably. Rotary withdrew its application and abandoned its plans for GO-REC last fall.

While McDonough is sad to let the property go, it’s costing Rotary $30,000 annually to maintain just sitting vacant, he says. “GO-REC was our last chance, and once that failed, the board said maybe we should liquidate it and put those funds toward another project,” he says. He’s hopeful that public access might still be available to the site under a new owner – though cautions it’s a “limited market” – and believes Rotary did everything it could for the property. “We feel good that we did protect the property with the easement, so all of those natural features will remain there,” he says.

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