Washtenaw Preserves Superior Twp. Site

County parks & rec commission votes to add 65 acres to natural areas; moves ahead on major parkland deal in Manchester Twp.

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Dec. 11, 2012): At their December meeting, commissioners took action on properties for the county’s natural areas preservation program. They gave final approval to spend $500,000 for 65 acres on Berry Road in Superior Township, in an area that’s known as the Superior Greenway.

Ford Road Property LLC, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, natural areas preservation program, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map showing two Ford Road Property LLC parcels (encircled) that the county is purchasing for its natural areas preservation program. A third parcel, which fronts Ford Road, is not part of this deal. The land is located in Superior Township.

In a separate vote, WCPARC authorized staff to undertake due diligence toward a sales offer on 473 acres on the border of Jackson and Washtenaw counties. This deal – for the Trolz property in Manchester Township – is a project that could result in a new state recreation area that includes the southwest corner of Washtenaw County. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Pursues Major New Parks & Rec Deal"]

Commissioners also bid adieu to Jimmie Maggard, who has served on WCPARC for over 30 years, and to outgoing county commissioner Barbara Bergman. Janis Bobrin, who has served on WCPARC for more than two decades by right of her position as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, did not run for re-election but will continue on WCPARC as a public member. [She was appointed by the county board at their Dec. 5 meeting.] Evan Pratt, who was elected water resources commissioner on Nov. 6, will join WCPARC in January – he attended the Dec. 11 meeting.

In the hour before the meeting started, commissioners and WCPARC staff held their annual holiday party. The highlight was a first viewing of a 30-minute video history of WCPARC, created by county staff over the past several months. The video will be available to the public soon, according to WCPARC deputy director Coy Vaughn. It will run on monitors at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, on cable television, and in smaller segments on the WCPARC website.

Also at the Dec. 11 meeting, the commission approved spending $33,375 to buy grooming equipment for cross-country skiing trails at Independence Lake and Rolling Hills parks. Staff provided reports on finances, highlighted by expenditures to maintain and improve Rolling Hills Water Park and Independence Lake Park; reported on recent projects, including the proposed East County Recreation Center in Ypsilanti; and reviewed WCPARC’s accomplishments in 2012.

An item not on the Dec. 11 agenda will likely receive attention in early 2013: An application from the city of Ann Arbor for up to $300,000 in Connecting Communities funds. If awarded, the grant would be used as matching funds for additional state support to improve the city-owned 721 N. Main property. Applications for WCPARC’s Connecting Communities must be received by year’s end, and the Ann Arbor city council is expected to authorize the application at its Dec. 17 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "Grant Applications Recommended for 721 N. Main."]

Natural Areas Preservation Program Acquisitions

The county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP) was established in 2000, when voters approved a 10-year millage of 0.25 mills, which was renewed in 2010 at a rate of 0.2409 mill – lower because of Headlee rollbacks. It raises about $3 million in annual revenues. Since 2000, nearly 2,500 acres of land have been preserved countywide. The millage-funded program is overseen by the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission (WCPARC), a body appointed by the county board that also oversees the much older parks and recreation system, which was established in 1973.

At WCPARC’s Dec. 11, two deals moved forward.

NAPP Acquisitions: Ford Road Property LLC

Tom Freeman, former deputy director of WCPARC who now works as a consultant, briefly reviewed the proposal to authorize $500,000 for the purchase of approximately 65 acres in Superior Township, north of Ford Road on the east side of Berry Road, for the county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP). He had made a full presentation at the commission’s meeting in November. Approval for this kind of land deal is a two-step process, occurring at two separate meetings. Commissioners were being asked for final approval at their Dec. 11 meeting.

Schroeter property, Superior Township, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, natural areas, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sign at Schroeter property in Superior Township, adjacent to 65 acres that the county is purchasing for its natural areas preservation program.

Freeman’s report highlighted the reasons for acquiring the property, which is actually two of three parcels owned by Ford Road Property LLC: (1) It is immediately south of Superior Township’s Schroeter Park, which will provide both parking and access; and (2) it has long been on Superior Township’s list of properties desirable for public purchase because of its high quality plant life (red and white oak upland woodlots, a red maple hardwood swamp), a perennial stream, and steeply sloped topography. In addition, the property just north of this acquisition and east of Schroeter Park is one that Superior Township would like to acquire at some point. The area is part of the “Superior Greenway,” a corridor of more than 2,000 acres of protected land between Ann Arbor and Detroit. [.pdf of maps showing location of property]

Freeman also reviewed the steps taken so far: approval by the county’s natural areas technical advisory committee; an appraisal by Bosserd Appraisal Services supporting the $500,000 price, at $7,632 per acre; a phase I environmental site assessment by Mannik & Smith that found no recognized environmental condition on the property; and a boundary survey including a legal description and certified survey drawing. [.pdf of staff report on Ford Road property]

NAPP Acquisitions: Ford Road Property LLC – Commission Discussion

Commissioner Jimmie Maggard asked Freeman how many acres the county owns in Superior Township. Freeman’s reply: about 200 in preserves, plus about 100 more at Staebler Farm. “The reason we have so much,” he added,  “is we have had so many partners helping with the purchases: the city of Ann Arbor, Superior Township, and others. Yes, there is a growing area of preserve property out there and there may come a time when the township thinks we have enough, but they are very supportive of our buying this.”

Commissioner Fred Veigel followed up by asking, “Are they going to buck us because this [purchase] will take property off tax rolls?” Eventually they might, Freeman said, “but they are supportive of this purchase.”

Commissioner Barbara Bergman added her own justification: “You may take this [property] off the rolls, but the adjacent property value goes up, and you have to balance the two [effects].” Freeman added another reason: “These are not within the urban services areas and not zoned at all for dense residential.”

In a tangential discussion, commissioner Jan Anschuetz asked Freeman for information about work being done along Prospect, between Vreeland and Cherry Hill. Freeman reported that on the west side of Prospect, a wetland mitigation project is taking place that’s related to a development elsewhere in southeast Michigan, “perhaps in Wayne County.” Trees are being brought in to provide habitat for wildlife when it floods, he said.

Anschuetz also commented that “I don’t think people in Superior Township know when we make acquisitions like this.” Freeman promised to work with township staff to include the information in the township’s newsletter.

Outcome: On a roll call vote, commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of the Ford Road Property LLC parcels at a price of $500,000.

NAPP Acquisitions: Trolz Property

The commission had discussed this item at its November 2012 meeting. [Chronicle coverage: "County pursues major new parks & rec deal"] The proposal calls for WCPARC to acquire about 473 acres in Washtenaw County’s Manchester Township, part of about 2,160 acres that span the border of Jackson and Washtenaw counties. Those 473 acres include a portion of an abandoned rail corridor, running roughly east and west, which provides an opportunity for development of a multi-use trail, according to the staff report. The property also has a significantly diverse landscape with woodlots, wetlands, and open fields. This parcel – together with the rest of the property, which the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (MDNR) hopes to purchase – could then become a new state recreation area and preserve.

MDNR had the Washtenaw County portion of the property appraised, and it was valued at $1,410,895.

Before the commission at the December meeting was a resolution to authorize staff to conduct due diligence on the property, including “preparation of a survey, environmental site assessment, as well as a sales offer, contingent upon development of a memorandum of understanding with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources …” These items would be brought to WCPARC for approval at a later date. [Link to .pdf of resolution regarding Trolz property]

Director Bob Tetens reported that he had received a letter in support of this purchase from Manchester Township.

NAPP Acquisitions: Trolz Property – Commission Discussion

Commission president Bob Marans reported that he and vice president Patricia Scribner, along with staff, had visited the site. “It is even more impressive when you are out there than it is in the photos,” he said. Scribner added, “All you can hear are birds.”

Around the table, there were simultaneous words of concurrence, after which commissioner Jan Anschuetz quipped, “I might need to get a horse and keep it in my garage.” It was a reference to Tetens’ description, at the November meeting, of the possibilities on this site to establish an equestrian center and horse riding trails.

Outcome: WCPARC unanimously approved the resolution authorizing due diligence on the Trolz property.

Commission Changes

Before the meeting was officially called to order, Bob Marans recognized that this was commissioner Barbara Bergman’s last meeting. Bergman spoke about how much she had learned from her year on WCPARC, and of her desire to continue to be involved, perhaps as a volunteer. Marans presented her with a large bouquet of flowers. Bergman has served on WCPARC in her capacity as county commissioner. She represented District 8 on the county board, one of four Ann Arbor districts, but did not seek re-election this year.

Bob Marans, Jimmie Maggard, Bob Tetens, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: WCPARC president Bob Marans, outgoing commissioner Jimmie Maggard, and WCPARC director Bob Tetens. (Photo by M. Leary)

Marans next recognized Jimmie Maggard, who had announced in November 2012 that he would leave WCPARC after the December meeting. [WCPARC members are appointed by the county board. Maggard ran for a position on the Ypsilanti Township parks commission, and was elected on Nov. 6 for a term ending November 2016.]

Marans presented Maggard with a large plaque that had an extensive description of Maggard’s contributions over the last 37 years. Maggard then spoke of his appreciation for the excellent leadership WCPARC has had, in the three directors he has known, and for the way the group has worked together for the benefit of the entire county. Finally, staff presented Maggard with a large cake, inscribed “Jimmie Maggard, over 30 years of service to WCPARC!” Maggard’s wife and son were present, and all shared the cake.

At WCPARC’s Dec. 11 meeting, commissioner Janis Bobrin noted that the county board of commissioners had appointed her to WCPARC as a member of the public. [The appointment occurred at the board's Dec. 5, 2012 meeting.] She also introduced audience member Evan Pratt, who won the Nov. 6 general election to replace Bobrin as the county’s water resource commissioner – a role that will earn him a seat on WCPARC starting in January 2013. Bobrin has been water resources commissioner for 24 years, but did not seek re-election.

Financial Reports

The December meeting included three written financial reports. WCPARC director Bob Tetens commented briefly on each of them.

Financial Reports: Claims

The claims report for December totaled $1,845,201.25. By far the largest claims paid were on parks and facilities’ capital improvements, a total of $1,840.676. Tetens explained that major costs in the last month related to the Border to Border (B2B) trail in Dexter; the final payment for construction of the new ring road at Rolling Hills Park; the new Washtenaw Avenue entrance and path at the County Farm Park; the two ongoing construction projects at Independence Lake and Rolling Hills parks; and the non-motorized trail project on Plymouth Road.

The natural areas preservation program spent $4,524. No new property was purchased in the past month. Tetens explained that the expenditures were for preserve management ($364) and for work preliminary to making purchases ($4,160) [.pdf of December 2012 claims]

Outcome: The commission approved payment of claims.

Financial Reports: Fund Balance Statements

Tetens provided a written fund balance statement as of Nov. 30, 2012 for parks and recreation activity. The report showed revenues at 106% of the amount projected in the budget, most of that due to higher-than-anticipated property tax revenue. It also showed expenses at 98% of the amount projected in the budget. There were no questions or comments from commissioners. [.pdf of Nov. 30, 2012 parks and recreation fund balance statement]

Tetens also provided a new report: a fund balance statement for the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), which is funded with a separate millage. [For background on NAPP, parks and recreation activities, see Chronicle coverage: "County Parks & Rec System Plan for Future."] Most of NAPP’s annual budget of $3,829,607 is allocated for land acquisition: $3.2 million. So far this year, $1,029,255 has been spent on acquisition. In addition, $211,457 was spent on personnel services and $276,747 on supplies. [.pdf of NAPP fund balance sheet]

Outcome: The commission received the reports and approved them both for filing.

Recreation Reports

WCPARC director Bob Tetens made only a few comments about the reports on attendance and revenue at park facilities, emphasizing that the unusually early spring and generally warm weather in 2012 lowered attendance at the Meri Lou Murray Rec Center (MLMRC). The year-to-date attendance there was only 296,888, low compared to 2011’s figure of 311,020. Revenue was also down: $1,084,563 this year compared to $1,096,553 last year. [.pdf of recreation center November report]

In contrast, Pierce Lake Golf Course showed an increase in both attendance and revenues. In 2012, 19,278 participants generated $399,192. In 2011, 15,075 participants generated $336,309. Overall revenue from programming and retail operations at Pierce Lake was $614,570, up from 2011’s $516,632. The report also shows that opening in 2012 was on March 15, a bit more than two weeks before the April 1 opening dates in 2011 and 2010. [.pdf of Pierce Lake Golf Course report]

Rolling Hills County Park’s report showed that through November 2012, attendance at the park was 34,373, generating revenue of $266,083. This was down slightly from 2011’s 34,844 users and $267,130 in revenue. [The general park financials are accounted for separately from the Rolling Hills water park because each has its own admission charge and gate count.] At the water park, 114,522 participants generated $780,122 in revenue. In 2011, the figures were slightly higher: 115,012 participants and $780,995 in revenue. Counting all sources of revenue at Rolling Hills, 2012’s revenue of $1,318,517 was slightly higher than 2011’s $1,310,515. [.pdf of Rolling Hills report]

Independence Lake County Park showed increased attendance and revenue this year. In 2012, 17,743 participants generated $137,217 in revenue, compared to 17,008 participants and $132,27 in revenue in 2011. Programming and retail operations added to the revenue, making the total in 2012 $211,578, up from 2011’s $209,885. [.pdf of Independence Lake County Park report]

East County Recreation Center

In his report on other activities in the past month, Bob Tetens included a reference to the presentation that he, Coy Vaughn, and University of Michigan professor Craig Borum made to the Ypsilanti city council’s working session on Dec. 3, 2012, to let that group know the status of planning for the proposed East County Recreation Center.

By way of background, The Chronicle attended that council working session. Borum’s presentation there was a summary of material covered in earlier Chronicle reports, including the report on WCPARC’s November 2012 meeting. At the session, Vaughn presented information on the economic benefits that the city might expect from such a project, although his comparisons were to the impact of parks rather than recreation centers. [.pdf of Vaughn’s slide show] The city council asked few questions, but did not express a preference for either of the two site plans for the entire Water Street redevelopment area, or for either of the proposals for the building itself.

City manager Ralph A. Lange asked about the timing and in particular when the building might be done. Tetens responded that construction could not begin until 2015 and would take 12-18 months. Several levels of approval would be needed before that happens, however.

New Business

WCPARC’s December meeting included several items of new business: purchase grooming equipment for cross-country skiing trails at Independence Lake and Rolling Hills parks; a funding request from “B-Side of Youth”; and updates on various other projects.

New Business: Winter Sports Trail-Grooming Equipment

Bob Tetens introduced his recommendation, with a written support and documentation of bids, that WCPARC authorize the purchase of two snowmobiles from C and C Sports, as well as two “Ginzugroomers” from Yellowstone Track Systems Inc. The total cost for these purchases is $33,375. [.pdf of staff report and bids]

Tetens said this equipment would be used to groom six miles of cross-country ski trails, three miles each at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. His introductory comment on the proposal was that it was “almost embarrassing to read about how we’ve been doing it, with a lot of manual labor and going back and forth.” Laughing, commissioner Dan Smith said the current method described in Tetens’ report was “amazing, like Rube Goldberg.”

The report stated:

The existing snow grooming equipment is a combination of borrowed, “home-made” and manufactured equipment. At both parks, the grooming equipment is towed by old, outdated vehicles which are not owned by the commission. Rolling Hills uses the park superintendent’s personal 1995 Polaris (340 cc engine, 15” wide track, and no reverse gear) snowmobile. Independence Lake utilizes a 1970’s era ski-doo alpine on loan from the Ann Arbor Ski Club (36” wide tracks, no electric start, and no reverse gear)….Each piece of equipment requires a separate pass, certainly an inefficient use of staff time, inhibiting our ability to maintain quality trails, and limiting our ability to expand the number of miles being groomed.

Commission discussion was brief but supportive.

Outcome: WCPARC unanimously approved the expenditure of $33,375 for new trail-grooming equipment.

New Business: B-Side Request for Funds

The next item of new business was a request from Jack Bidlack, director of the “B-Side of Youth,” an entrepreneurial program of Eastern Michigan University’s Office of Academic Service-Learning. The request was for $1,500 from WCPARC to sponsor a five-hour event for about 50 to 100 youth ages 12-18 years old. [.pdf of B-Side proposal]

Barbara Bergman, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Barbara Bergman at her last meeting – on Dec. 11, 2012 – of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission.

There was no motion or resolution before WCPARC, but there was discussion. Commissioner Barbara Bergman wondered that if they grant this request, where should they draw the line if there are future requests for funding? Commissioner Fred Veigel asked whether WCPARC could offer B-Side the use of one of WCPARC’s facilities in lieu of cash.

Tetens responded that the only suitable facility was the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, and “the problem is we have five or six thousand members who expect to have full use of the facility.” Veigel suggested that Tetens discuss the matter with EMU staff, and he agreed to do that.

New Business: 2012 in Review

Another presentation at the December meeting, in addition to the video history of WCPARC, was a slide show illustrating the system’s accomplishments in 2012. The presentation highlighted capital improvements, B2B trails, and Connecting Communities extensions, grants and awards earned by WCPARC, partnerships, land management and stewardship, and a kaleidoscope of programs and events put on by WCPARC.

The presentation was primarily a review of information that’s been covered in previous Chronicle reports. However, Tetens also provided some new information throughout the presentation. He highlighted the work done by WCPARC volunteers, together with regular staff, to maintain property in the natural areas preservation program. A total of 234 volunteers, he said, worked for 986 hours during 2012, which supplemented the 2,047 hours by NAPP crew from May through November.

New Business: 2012 in Review – MDNR Trust Fund Grant

Tetens also reported that the city of Ypsilanti has been informed by the state Dept. of Natural Resources that it will receive a $300,000 grant from the MDNR Trust Fund to build another half mile of the Border to Border trail along the Huron River adjacent to the proposed East County Recreation Center. [The MDNR describes the effort as a "River’s Edge Linear Park and Trail Development," which will include a "multi-use trail, plaza, fishing pier, river overlook, signage and site amenities."]

This money will be used along with last year’s grant of $289,400, which is earmarked to create a way for the B2B trail to cross Michigan Avenue and connect to the next section of the trail to the southeast.

Tetens also reported that Fischer Honda on Michigan Avenue has agreed to provide easements so the trail can cross over its property. The crossing itself has not yet been designed, Tetens said. But the intent is to both protect pedestrians and say to the automobile driver “I am crossing something important,” he said – namely, the B2B trail.

New Business: 2012 in Review – Ann Arbor Skatepark

Tetens gave an update on the Ann Arbor Skate Park, destined for construction in Veterans Memorial Park. The park is under design now, he said, and construction will start in the spring of 2013. This is, he said, yet another example of WCPARC partnerships – in this case with the city of Ann Arbor and the Friends of Ann Arbor Skatepark group, supported by an MDNR trust fund grant of $300,000 that was awarded in 2011.

“There will be nothing like it within a day’s drive,” Tetens said, adding that the park would probably not charge admission.

Commissioners applauded the overall year-in-review presentation, and commissioner Jan Anschuetz asked how it could be used to publicize what WCPARC does. Tetens responded that it could not be used easily on its own because “it requires narrative.” Commissioner Barbara Bergman commented that the show simply reminded her that she has “learned so much about these parks in the year of serving with you.”

New Business: Project Updates

WCPARC deputy director Coy Vaughn gave a presentation showing the completion of work on segment D1 of the River Terrace portion of the Border to Border (B2B) trail, which runs from Dexter Huron Metro Park to the village of Dexter.

Although it is not yet open to the public, the construction is virtually complete, with only 1/8th of a mile remaining where the trail ends at the Dexter public works department yard.. That work depends on negotiating a right-of-way through land that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is about to purchase from Norfolk Southern railroad.

Vaughn’s slide show included photos taken every 50 yards, showing an expansive, curving path that will accommodate all non-motorized forms of transportation. As commissioners admired the slides, director Bob Tetens added that Ann Arbor’s Peter Pollack had designed the trail, so that every time you round a curve, a new view unfolds. [Pollack, a renowned landscape architect, died in December 2010.]

As the meeting concluded, commissioner Barbara Bergman said, “What a grand finale! Now I see that I must find a way to do some volunteer work [for WCPARC].” Commissioner Nelson Meade also commented, reflecting his long-term involvement in WCPARC: “This commission is still exciting after 49 years!”

Present: President Bob Marans, vice president Patricia Scribner, secretary/treasurer Nelson Meade, Jan Anschuetz, Barbara Bergman, Janis Bobrin, Jimmie Maggard, Dan Smith, and Fred Veigel.

Absent: Rolland Sizemore, Jr.

WCPARC staff: Director Robert Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, planner Meghan Bonfiglio, and consultant Tom Freeman.

Next regular WCPARC meeting: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at 7 p.m. at the parks and recreation commission administrative offices, 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.

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One Comment

  1. December 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm | permalink

    I am a proud contributor to the Superior Greenway and a charter (that is, from its inception) member of the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy. It is so gratifying to me that this land assembly has been taking place with the cooperation of many entities, including the SEMLC, Washtenaw County, and the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission.

    I take the long view on land preservation. I’m imagining what our county will look like in 50 years. This area will be an important respite if we become increasingly urbanized, and if not, it will avoid becoming a wasteland of failed developments and polluting industrial uses. Keep in mind that Superior Township has heroically avoided the urban sprawl from Canton Township. These important land preservation efforts help.

    Celebration and congratulations all around. And thank you for the article.