Ann Arbor parks have their ducks in a row. [photo]
I was first introduced to Greek drama in my sophomore year of high school.
Here’s bit of friendly advice to high school teachers everywhere: If you take a group of kids in southern Indiana and assign them parts in Anouilh’s Antigone to read aloud sitting at their desks, at least one of those kids will contemplate stabbing out his own eyes as a way to avoid doing that.
Because I am not a hero in a Greek play, I did not act on the inclination. But based on that first exposure to Greek drama, I did not develop an appreciation for it, or any other literary tradition. In literary terms, this failure to “develop an appreciation” for Greek drama is, I believe, accurately described as “understatement.”
So I must avail myself of another highfalutin literary device (irony) to urge you, Chronicle readers, to attend one of the upcoming performances of “Elektra,” this year’s Penny Seats Theatre Company West Park production.
Opening night was July 10. It will be performed over three weekends: July 10-12, July 17-19 and July 24-26. Buy a ticket.
To be clear, it’s not Greek drama I’m trying to sell you. I’d like to sell you on the idea of Greek drama performed in West Park, one of 157 parks here in Ann Arbor.
I want to sell you on that idea, because mostly when you read about Ann Arbor’s parks in The Chronicle, it’s in some super policy-wonky context. Sometimes that context is the city council, when it’s engaged in its own park-based drama. Or it’s our coverage of the park advisory commission.
So in the Penny Seats production of “Elektra,” I spotted an opening to pitch Ann Arbor’s parks to readers – in a different way than we typically cover them.
West Park is just west of downtown, between Chapin and Seventh streets. Motorists on Huron Street will be familiar with the park’s general location, even if they don’t know the park itself: It’s north of the HAWK crosswalk pedestrian signal as you pass the Y building.
Pedestrians who cross Huron at the HAWK crosswalk, and head a half block north along Chapin, will find the park entrance on the left. From that direction, the park offers a fairly conventional playground, a basketball court and a Project Grow gardening plot. A bit farther to the west, hugging the northern portion of the park, is a baseball field. And to be perfectly clear, that’s a baseball (not softball) field – which has been described by players as the best place to play baseball in all of lower Michigan. To the south, there’s a pond or wetland type area. A boardwalk leads across it, so you can stop along the way and make friends with a frog, some duck or a muskrat.
On up the hill to the west, past the ball field and the wetland, is the bandshell, with a series of seatwalls. The Penny Seats production of “Elektra” is being performed on the apron immediately in front of the seatwalls, not on the bandshell stage.
I attended opening night of “Elektra.”
I’ll grant you that the opening to this column might have convinced you that I am not to be trusted on theatrical matters. I do have one credential, however. The summer after that high school English class – the one that made me think about stabbing out my eyes – our teacher bused us up to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. We attended a half-dozen performances. So I think I have some frame of reference for what a professionally-produced stage performance is supposed to look and sound like.
A pair of ducklings snuggle into their nest at dusk, as mama duck watches. [photo]
Large, undulating school of goldfish in West Park pond. [photo]
Tour of West Park at dusk. Inventory includes Peepside Apartments [photo 1], a mother duck sitting on some ducklings [photo 2] a frog [photo 3], an apparent replacement of the shuffleboard court with a petanque court [photo 4], and a notice of the upcoming city tennis tournament at the tennis courts [photo 5].
Wind gust/ Straw hat must take flight/ Into the pond [Ed. note: Complete verse concludes in comments.]
The day after Thanksgiving, there was enough ice on the West Park pond to bear an adult’s weight (and his bike)! With a warmup in the offing, be careful! [photo]
Things are about to get exciting behind the West Park Band Shell. In a few days these Jewel Weed Plants (Impatiens capensis) will have exploding edible seed pods. Also called “Touch Me Not” the seeds have a nutty taste and can be harvested by carefully letting the pod explode in your closed hand. Just touch the pod and it opens with plant-like force. Great for kids. The juicy leaves help relieve rashes caused by poison ivy and insect bites when applied topically. [photo]
Evening wildlife report: One muskrat, four ducks, countless goldfish, one great blue heron, and another not-definitely-identified water bird: a juvenile green heron? Brown with white spots or streaks on its back. Long neck and pointed bill, but not as long or sharp as that of the great blue.
Lovely light before the storm. But what is this small fence up in the air? And why are there two of them? I’m not a ball player and I can’t imagine what role they play in the game. [photo]
At the West Park pond, a friendly and observant person pointed out the small baby/juvenile muskrat.
Pond water level quite low, and apparently continuing to drop with no inflow. Is the parks staff letting it dry up? Hope the coming rain will help, but it did not seem to help after the last storm.
Parking is very limited due to many piles of dirt and sand in the parking spaces as well as construction equipment. [photo]
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 19, 2013): A packed agenda for this month’s PAC meeting included several items related to downtown parks and the Huron River.
Commissioners discussed a proposal to build an ice-skating rink atop a portion of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure. They took no action on the item, but were briefed on the proposal by two advocates of the effort: Alan Haber and Stewart Gordon. The two men also attended a subsequent March 26 meeting of a PAC downtown park subcommittee. This report includes a summary of that session as well.
River-related items on PAC’s March 19 agenda included a resolution to recommend awarding a $295,530 contract to Gerace Construction Co. for repair work and repainting at Argo and Geddes dams, as well as site improvements around Argo Dam. Brian Steglitz, an engineer with the city, told commissioners that the work is being done in response to the most recent inspection by state regulators.
Commissioners also recommended awarding a $512,180 contract for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery to Construction Solutions Inc., which will be funded in part by a $300,000 state grant. Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Argo and Gallup canoe liveries, gave commissioners a presentation on those operations, in preparation for budget recommendations that PAC is expected to consider at its April 16 meeting.
As part of her report, Saam noted that the city plans to issue another request for proposals (RFP) to design a whitewater section along the Huron River, downstream from the Argo Dam near the Argo Cascades. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reminded commissioners that the first attempt at this project wasn’t successful. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality did not approve the initial design, and would not issue the necessary permit for the project. The staff is working with the state to address MDEQ’s concerns, he said. Smith also reported that DTE Energy still intends to pay for the project, which is located adjacent to property that the utility company is cleaning up.
DTE representatives were on hand at the meeting because of a different project: To request an easement on city-owned land in Riverside Park, where utility poles are located. The easement is needed as part of an $8 million new electrical substation that DTE is building on land adjacent to the park. Commissioners unanimously recommended that the city council approve the easement.
In another presentation to set the stage for next month’s budget discussion, PAC heard from Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, recreational facility supervisor at Huron Hills. They reviewed the status of the city’s two golf courses – at Huron Hills and Leslie Park – and noted that both courses have seen significant revenue gains over the past five years.
The issue that drew the most public commentary during the meeting wasn’t on the March 19 agenda: a possible dog park on a knoll in West Park. Residents in that area aren’t happy about the prospect of barking dogs in their neighborhood.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 26, 2013): An item generating the most discussion at this month’s PAC meeting related to two potential locations for a new fenced-in dog park: about 2 acres in and near South Maple Park, on the city’s west side off of West Liberty; and a roughly 1-acre section of West Park, on a knoll in the south-central area.
No action was taken, and a PAC committee will continue to evaluate these options with parks staff before making a formal recommendation to the full commission. The previously recommended site – at a different location within West Park, near the parking lot off Chapin Street – was ultimately not presented to the city council, following protests from the nearby New Hope Baptist Church.
Another PAC committee, focused on developing recommendations for a possible downtown park, gave only a brief update. Its next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5. However, commissioners heard from four people during public commentary who advocated for a new park atop the city’s Library Lane underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue. Part of the commentary covered a proposal to build a temporary ice-skating rink on that site.
Commissioners also recommended approval of several contracts totaling over $180,000. The contracts cover landscaping work at multiple locations, golf cart leases, custodial work at Cobblestone Farm, renovations at Esch Park, and rental of an overflow parking lot for the Argo canoe livery. The landscaping work is being funded through a donation from the Henrietta Feldman Trust.
And in his monthly report, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith informed commissioners about a strategy the city is pursuing to deal with invasive aquatic plants – primarily Eurasian watermilfoil – at Geddes Pond.
Three dogs romping off leash in the West Park ballfield, with their owners nearby – an unofficial dog park.
Much of West Park pond sufficiently frozen to support a skater practicing with hockey stick and puck. Eastern-most end of pond is a puddle.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 15, 2013): The city’s park advisory commissioners are embarking on a process to analyze the need for a possible downtown park or open space, with the goal of delivering recommendations to the city council later this year.
In a 90-minute discussion at PAC’s January meeting, commissioners talked about how they’d like to approach this effort, which stemmed in part from a request that mayor John Hieftje made last summer. Momentum for PAC to weigh in has accelerated in light of recommendations recently delivered to the city council on the Connecting William Street project.
Several councilmembers have expressed concern that those recommendations – made by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on five city-owned sites – don’t include sufficient green space. PAC has already weighed in on that specific project, passing a resolution on Sept. 18 2012 that urged the council to seek additional evaluation on locations for a downtown park.
During public commentary, several residents – including supporters of the Library Green Conservancy – spoke in support of a substantial downtown park.
A PAC subcommittee plans to draft a plan for how to proceed, with the full commission continuing the discussion at their land acquisition committee meeting on Feb. 5. The process is expected to take 4-6 months.
Also at their Jan. 15 meeting, commissioners got an update on plans for locating a dog park at West Park, across from New Hope Baptist Church. PAC had recommended that location for a dog park, but – as The Chronicle previously reported – objections from church members have resulted in a decision to look for another location. The project had been slated for consideration by the city council on Jan. 22, but has been removed from the agenda.
PAC chair Julie Grand told her fellow commissioners that she was still committed to the concept of a centrally-located dog park, and that PAC and parks staff would pursue other options. A PAC subcommittee that had worked on identifying a new dog park location will be reconvened to bring forward another recommendation.
In other action, commissioners received a mid-year budget update. The parks system is doing better than planned, thanks to a combination of better-than-expected revenues and lower expenses. [.pdf of budget summary] The city’s fiscal year 2013 runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.
The recommendation to locate a dog park in West Park, across from New Hope Baptist Church, will be removed from the Ann Arbor city council’s Jan. 22 agenda. The Ann Arbor park advisory commission, which had recommended the location off of Chapin Street, was informed of the decision at its Jan. 15, 2013 meeting. Parks staff and PAC will regroup and select a new location for a dog park more centrally located to the downtown.
Several members of the church had spoken at PAC’s December 2012 meeting, objecting to problems with noise, smell and safety. The African American church is located directly across the street from the proposed dog park location. At that meeting, PAC voted to recommend that city …
57 F degrees, Christmas trees piling up. [photo]
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Dec. 18, 2012): Actions related to two projects that have long been in the works – a new dog park and the city’s first skatepark – received recommendations of approval from Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners at their last meeting of 2012.
Commissioners recommended that a site at West Park – next to the park’s entrance off Chapin Street – be designated as the city’s third dog park. Their action came after several members of the New Hope Baptist Church spoke during public commentary to oppose the location, which would be directly across the street from the church. Congregants cited concerns over safety, noise, “dog stink” and other issues. One speaker suggested the possibility of swapping the location with the existing Project Grow gardens, located in West Park but farther away from the road.
In response to New Hope concerns, PAC amended its original resolution to specify that parks staff and PAC would meet with church members to discuss a possibly temporary dog park at that location, and to review the status of the dog park a year after it’s in place, with particular attention to noise levels. The new dog park would need approval from the city council before being installed.
In another vote, commissioners recommended approval of the final concept design for the Ann Arbor skatepark, to be built at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, near the intersection of North Maple and Dexter Avenue. They were briefed on the design features by Wally Hollyday, a well-known California skatepark designer who had come to town specifically for the presentation. He had been hired earlier this year to do the design and oversee the project’s construction.
Two residents who live near Veterans Memorial Park spoke against the location during public commentary, concerned about noise, maintenance, safety and other issues that they felt hadn’t been adequately addressed.
Trevor Staples, chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, also spoke to PAC and noted that the group would be holding a retreat later this winter to discuss their future mission. He indicated the group would be involved in ongoing support for the skatepark. Part of the memorandum of intent with the city stipulates that 10% of fundraising for the skatepark is being set aside for future maintenance.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, with a goal of completing the project by the fall.
Also at the Dec. 18 meeting, commissioners recommended awarding a $109,500 contract to Renaissance Restorations Inc. to replace roofs at Cobblestone Farm on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House. They also got an update from Colin Smith, who reported that the city has withdrawn its application for a state permit to build a whitewater section in the Huron River, near Argo Cascades. City staff are working with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality to come up with a different design that would address concerns raised about the environmental impact of the whitewater feature.
At the end of the meeting commissioners bid farewell to John Lawter, whose term ends on Dec. 31. Lawter has been instrumental in moving forward plans for a new centrally located dog park.
A section of West Park, located off of Chapin across from the New Hope Baptist Church, has been recommended as the location for a new fenced-in dogpark. The recommendation from the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, made at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, was unanimous, and will be forwarded to city council for consideration.
The vote followed public commentary from more than a half dozen members of the New Hope Baptist Church, which would be located directly across from the dogpark. Members were opposed to the location, citing concerns over safety, noise and other issues. One speaker suggested the possibility of swapping the location with the existing Project Grow gardens, located in West Park but further away from the road.
The proposed …
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 16, 2012): Creation of a new, more centrally located Ann Arbor dog park moved forward this month, as park commissioners reached an informal consensus to explore West Park for that purpose.
A committee that has focused on identifying possible locations for a new dog park recommended the West Park site – specifically, a parcel in the park’s northeast corner, where the city recently bought and demolished a house near the entrance off of Chapin Street. No formal vote was taken, but PAC’s support means that staff will bring back a proposal for PAC’s consideration, and hold a public meeting for community input.
PAC members did formally vote on a recommendation to relocate tennis courts within Windemere Park, to the east of the current location. Several residents of the neighborhood surrounding Windemere Park attended the meeting and advocated for a postponement on the decision. They noted that the option being recommended by staff had not been presented at an Oct. 8 neighborhood meeting. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, later explained that the fourth option had emerged from a consensus of ideas at the meeting.
Berla, who voted against the PAC resolution, felt there was nothing to lose in giving residents another month to review the proposal. But other commissioners believed that moving ahead was the best approach, and that no option would satisfy all residents – especially people with property facing the park. The resolution also recommended incorporating input from residents regarding landscaping around the courts, which was a concern raised by some of the homeowners.
In an unusual move, PAC member Ingrid Ault spoke to her fellow commissioners during public commentary. Telling them that she was speaking as a citizen, not a commissioner, Ault said she had formed a campaign committee – called Friends of the Parks – to support the park maintenance & capital improvements millage renewal, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot. The current 1.1 mill tax expires this year. A renewal would run from 2013-2018 and raise about $4.9 million next year. Ault brought yard signs to distribute, and encouraged commissioners and the public to support the renewal. PAC had passed a resolution in support of the millage at their June 2012 meeting.
As part of his manager’s report, Colin Smith noted that city staff will be meeting with representatives from the state on Nov. 2 to get a better understanding of concerns that have been raised regarding a planned whitewater section of the Huron River, near Argo Cascades. He said he’d have an update on that situation at PAC’s November meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”]
Commissioners held their annual officer elections, re-electing Julie Grand as chair. Ingrid Ault was elected vice chair and Tim Doyle was tapped as chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. All nominations were uncontested, and the votes were unanimous. PAC also welcomed Missy Stults to her first meeting as commissioner. Her nomination had been confirmed by the city council earlier this month.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 20, 2012): At their monthly meeting, park advisory commissioners were briefed on two millages that help fund Ann Arbor’s park system, including one that will likely be on the November ballot for renewal.
The park maintenance and capital improvements millage, a six-year tax, brings in about $5 million annually and accounts for about 45% of the parks budget – including the entire funding for the natural areas preservation (NAP) program. Voters will likely be asked to renew it at 1.1 mills from 2013-2018, assuming the city council votes to put the millage on the Nov. 6 ballot at that rate. PAC chair Julie Grand – who has served on a working group to strategize about the renewal – said concerns about the economic climate are a major reason why an increase isn’t being recommended.
During the millage discussion, city councilmember Mike Anglin said he supports the millage but has concerns about Fuller Park, noting that talks regarding Fuller Road Station aren’t over. Parks manager Colin Smith pointed out that no millage funds have been or would be spent on Fuller Road Station. Grand cautioned against connecting the millage renewal to Fuller Road Station, saying it’s important to inform the public clearly about what the renewal means.
To provide that information, the city plans to hold four public forums in April, and a public hearing on the millage will be scheduled for PAC’s April 17 meeting. The city also plans to launch a website in early April with more information about the millage.
Also at the March 20 meeting, commissioners got a mid-year update about the open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt program and park acquisitions. Fuller Road Station was a backdrop to this discussion too, when commissioner Gwen Nystuen asked about protections that are afforded land acquired through this millage.
Land acquisition also came up in two other contexts during the meeting. The future of property owned by MichCon – located north of Broadway Street, between the Huron River and the railroad tracks – was part of the discussion during an update on environmental cleanup at the site. A DTE Energy representative indicated that senior management sees the potential for redevelopment there, but no plans are finalized. It’s expected that DTE Energy, which owns the property through its MichCon subsidiary, will eventually sell the site.
And speaking during public commentary, Ann Arbor resident Larry Baird advocated for the city to acquire land to fill gaps in the Border-to-Border Trail, which roughly follows the Huron River. Specifically, he characterized a connection between Bandemer Park and Barton Nature Area as the top priority, and urged the city to focus more on this project than on high-speed rail.
In the agenda’s one action item, commissioners recommended awarding a $79,980 contract to Michigan Recreational Construction Inc. to handle renovations at Placid Way Park. The resolution also recommends an additional 10% contingency of $7,998 for a total project cost of $87,978. The 1.32-acre neighborhood park is located on the city’s north side near the larger Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area and Foxfire South Park. The project would be funded from the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.