Photo credit: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
By Beth Milligan – The Ticker
Despite the looming cold weather, multiple planning and parks boards across the region are busy with upcoming park projects, including the proposed redevelopment of Northport’s Timber Shores, new recreational amenities at Sleeping Bear Dunes and Leelanau State Park, upgrades to the Grand Traverse County Civic Center and Silver Lake Recreation Area, and a possible new dog park in East Bay Township.
Walter Johnson of Vogel Advisors appeared before Leelanau Township planning commissioners Thursday to discuss plans to bring the long-shuttered Timber Shores RV Resort back to life. Johnson, speaking on behalf of property owner Fred Gordon, outlined ambitious plans to use 67 acres for a revitalized park, which would host 335 new camping sites: 69 pull-thru overnight sites, 135 back-in overnight sites, 111 seasonal sites, and 20 park model rentals. Plans also call for a beach swim area with a giant inflatable floating waterpark, an 18-hole mini golf course, a pedal kart path, a playground area, and shower facilities, among other amenities. On-site staff housing is also shown in concept renderings.
“The plan is simply to restore Timber Shores to its former prominence as a premier family-oriented RV resort,” Johnson told The Ticker in an email. “In addition to the RV campsites, there will also be some mini cabins that tourists to the area may use for overnight lodging. As a family-oriented resort, there will be many outdoor recreation amenities...this will be a destination quality resort that will bring many new tourist/campers to Northport, which once benefited significantly from the tourist dollars generated by Timber Shores.”
Concept renderings indicate the park would be open not only to campers, but also to day visitors, with more than 100 parking spaces reserved for the latter. Parking and high volumes of traffic were cited as potential concerns by some residents in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, though others praised the economic boon the park could bring to local businesses. Representatives from The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, noting the prominent wetlands on the property, said they wanted to make sure development plans would not negatively impact the environment. Thursday’s meeting was only a conceptual discussion for developers to gather feedback before they return with a formal application, which will then go through the township’s approval process.
Elsewhere in Leelanau County, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore held a grand opening last week (pictured) for a new three-mile-long trail in the Bow Lakes area of the park. The Kettles Trail trailhead is located on West Baatz Road near South Fritz Road (west of County Road 669) and offers a 1,000-foot beginning section leading to an overlook that is fully accessible, thanks to a compacted stone surface. Kettles are depressions created by retreating glaciers, many of which later fill with water; Bow Lakes is a geologically unique area featuring many such kettles, along with steep hills, ponds, and bogs, which can now be explored by the new trail. “The Kettles Trail will provide visitor access to some of the best examples of the ancient glacial phenomena that Congress cited when it established the park on October 21, 1970,” says Sleeping Bear Superintendent Scott Tucker.
Another park upgrade will debut Tuesday at an 11am ribbon cutting at Leelanau State Park. The event will commemorate the opening of a new accessible playground at the park, located at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula. The new amenity features two slides, a log balance beam, a crow's nest, and trapeze rings, among other components. The playground sits on a rubberized surface that “makes access easier for persons of all mobility levels,” according to a release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR says the playground was made possible by a “massive volunteer effort” – including a community build assisted by Michigan Cares for Tourism – and a community fundraising drive spearheaded by Friends of Leelanau State Park.
In Grand Traverse County, Garfield Township trustees last week approved a $167,086 contract with North Country Contracting to make improvements this fall and next spring at Silver Lake Recreation Area. A significant portion of the contract – more than $115,000 – will pay for the expansion of the parking lot at Grand Traverse Metro Fire Station 12, which will also provide additional spaces for the park and a slightly rerouted loop trail. An ADA ramp will connect from the parking lot to the sidewalk system. Trustees are hopeful the construction firm can complete the parking lot before winter weather arrives, though in the event that’s impossible, the company has committed to at least getting a gravel base down so that lot is usable for the March primary election (the property serves as a polling location). In either scenario, the lot would be finished by spring 2020, with other improvements next year to include new sidewalks and an asphalt connection across the park to provide an interior trail loop.
In East Bay Township, parks and recreation commissioners plan to approach trustees at the board’s November 13 meeting about using the township’s water tower property near Five Mile and Hammond roads for new community recreational amenities, including a dog park, walking trail, and senior exercise stations. Township Supervisor Beth Friend explains the 30-acre property was purchased for the construction of a water well and storage tank, which have since been built, leaving much of the remaining site “underutilized or vacant.” While it’s possible the township will need parts of the property to meet water demands years or decades in the future, commissioners hope in the meantime to open it up to community use with amenities that can be moved or removed if needed down the line. If trustees approve the concept, parks and recreation commissioners can move forward with planning and budgeting for the park upgrades.
Finally, in Traverse City, a new “natural trail” has opened at the Grand Traverse County-owned Civic Center on East Front Street. The two-and-a-half-foot-wide dirt path parallels the outer edges of the existing one-mile paved trail loop and is marked by pink flag markers and low-cut grass. According to Executive Director Lisa Taylor of the Traverse City Track Club – which proposed the trail to county parks and recreation commissioners – the trail “is designed to offer users a more forgiving underfoot surface, versus pavement, and offers less impact due to the natural grass and dirt surface.” The trail was officially unveiled October 17 and is open now to walkers, runners, and bikers. It will be monitored over the next year as a temporary amenity as the county embarks on a master site planning process for the Civic Center in 2020.
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