Tree Removal Project Could Bring Landscaping Changes, Forestry Plan To Civic Center
By Beth Milligan | Nov. 13, 2017
A tree removal project could dramatically change part of the landscape of the Grand Traverse County Civic Center – but will also bring the opportunity to replace dying trees with healthy ones and kick-start a forestry management plan for both the Civic Center and other county parks.
Consumers Energy will begin the process today (Monday) of removing nearly three dozen trees in the northwest quadrant of the park, stretching from behind Howe Arena over to the western bridge near Oak Park Elementary School. The project is expected to last until November 30, weather permitting. Portions of the walking track that run through the tree removal area will be closed during the project period, with track users rerouted on a detour through the center baseball field area and parking lot.
The project follows more than a year of planning as Consumers Energy works to rebuild and upgrade a high-voltage electric distribution line running from Old Mission Peninsula south to Traverse City. The cross-town system serves Munson Medical Center, among numerous other customers. A portion of the project involves work on Garfield Avenue and Front Street; the utility already removed trees and installed new poles and wires along Garfield Avenue in 2016. Three easements in place with Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation allow Consumers Energy to trim and remove trees in the Civic Center that could affect its power lines.
The trees slated for removal include “ten that are dead or dying and two dozen that, due to location and age, pose customer reliability issues or a potential danger to running/walking path users,” according to Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Erickson. Because the northwest area contains a sparser tree population than the southern half of the Civic Center, the removal of 34 trees could have a noticeable visual impact when the project is complete, says Erickson.
“I think it will be kind of shocking for people, because it’s only concentrated on half the park where there aren’t as many trees,” says Erickson. “I know it will look a lot more bare.”
But the aesthetic impact will be offset by the opportunity to remove dead, dying or dangerous trees at no cost to the county, says Erickson, with Consumers Energy planning to completely remove the wood and stumps from the park and recycle them through organizations like the Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve as wood chips for walking trails. The Parks and Recreation department can then look to repopulate the Civic Center with healthy trees, Erickson says. After approving the most recent easement with Consumers Energy, Parks and Recreation commissioners set aside the $7,500 easement fee to use toward replacement tree plantings and landscaping in the Civic Center next spring. The board can also apply for up to $2,500 in grant funding from Consumers Energy’s Community Tree Planting Program to pay for up to 25 new trees in the park.
Erickson says the developer behind a new Starbucks and Rite Aid development next to the park at the corner of Front and Garfield has also approached the county about obtaining a possible potential temporary grading easement in exchange for providing landscape design services to the Civic Center. Erikson says those combined funding and trade opportunities could allow the county to significantly redesign the northwest area of the park – which is currently fenced in and inaccessible from the East Front sidewalk and Starbucks and Rite Aid property – and open it up to the public.
“Our commission would like to see something beautiful happen there to make it more user-friendly and accessible,” says Erickson. “We’d look at removing the fence and improving the landscaping, potentially reaching out to the local botanic garden group for their input. It could have more of a greener, rolling hills look. We look at it as an opportunity to make that corner of the park much more worthy of the Civic Center.”
The timing of the project comes amidst work by Parks and Recreation commissioners to create a new five-year recreation master plan, which is due to the state in the first quarter of 2018 and will guide park planning in Grand Traverse County through 2023. Erickson says the tree removal project allows commissioners to “put careful thought and planning into park reforestation” in the Civic Center, developing a forestry plan that could be incorporated into the five-year master plan and also become a template for forestry management in other county parks.
"The county has never had a plan in place for maintaining its tree stock, and this is a wonderful first step to start over, at least with one park," says Erickson. "There are aging and dead trees in many of the parks in our region – a much bigger project than anyone can handle, but we would like to start doing it right."
Pictured: A section of the northwest quadrant of the Civic Center, which could be redesigned and made accessible from East Front Street in the future.