County Expands Natural Areas Preservation

Washtenaw County parks & rec commission OKs conservation easements in York, Superior townships; also gets update on proposed recreation center in Ypsilanti

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (Feb. 11, 2014): After skipping the January 2014 meeting for lack of business, commissioners had a heavy agenda for their meeting in February.

Superior Township, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of Bloch/Vreeland property in Superior Township. Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission approved the purchase of a conservation easement on this parcel. (Image from WCPARC board packet.)

Action included approving the purchase of a conservation easement on 129 acres in Superior Township – fronting Vreeland and Leforge roads – for $613,500. Purchase of another easement was authorized for $95,731 on the Rogers parcel, 157 acres in York Township.

Commissioners also heard an update on the proposed agreement between WCPARC and the city of Ypsilanti that would result in WCPARC building a new recreation center on 4.1 acres of land in the Water Street redevelopment area, next to the Huron River. Some of the changes in the draft agreement came at the request of the Ann Arbor YMCA, which is partnering on the project and would operate the center. The goal is to complete construction by late 2016.

Grant applications for WCPARC’s Connecting Communities initiative were reviewed. Requests from four townships and the village of Manchester totaled $1.35 million. That’s far greater than the $600,000 available for the grant program, which was created to build non-motorized trails across the county. Commissioners will decide at their March 11 meeting how to award the grants.

During public commentary, three residents spoke to the commission about the ill effects of over-abundant deer in the county, and urged WCPARC to address the situation.

The commission also welcomed its newest member to the group: Dan Ezekiel, a science teacher at Ann Arbor Public Schools and former chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. One of the longest-serving commissioners – labor leader Fred Veigel, who has represented the county road commission on WCPARC – didn’t attend the meeting because of ill health. He died on March 2.

Natural Areas Preservation Program

The county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP) is funded by a 10-year countywide millage of 0.2409 mills, which brings in about $3 million annually. Voters renewed the millage most recently in 2010, through 2020. The program enables WCPARC to purchase land worth preserving because of its natural features, and to purchase development rights on agricultural land.

The Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC) advises WCPARC on natural areas acquisitions. The Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Committee advises WCPARC on the purchase of development rights for agricultural land.

NAPP: Bloch/Vreeland Road Property

Tom Freeman, retired WCPARC deputy director who now serves as a consultant, presented a report to support his recommendation, and that of ALPAC, that WCPARC purchase a conservation easement on the Bloch property – 129 acres in Superior Township at the southeast corner of the LeForge and Vreeland Roads. [.pdf of staff memo]

At their meeting on Dec. 10, 2013, commissioners had authorized staff to prepare a purchase offer for the conservation easement.

Freeman highlighted what he and NATAC found as the most valuable features. First, although the land is primarily in active agricultural use, it holds a seasonal stream that flows into the nearby west section of WCPARC’s Meyer Preserve, and has wetlands along Vreeland Road on the north edge of the property. Second, preserving the agricultural use of the property will serve to buffer the Meyer Preserve. A farmer will, Freeman said, buy the property and continue to use it for agricultural purposes.

Freeman reported that Bosserd Appraisal Services had valued a conservation easement on the property at $613,500, or $4,750 per acre; that Mannik & Smith group had done a phase 1 environmental assessment and did not identify any significant environmental concerns; and that the county had a boundary survey, legal description, and sealed survey drawing.

NAPP: Bloch/Vreeland Rd. Property – Commission Discussion

Robert Marans, WCPARC  president, asked why this conservation easement was being purchased by NAPP when the land is agricultural. Freeman answered that the existence and importance of the stream justifies using some of the 25% of NAPP’s money that can be used to purchase conservation easements on agricultural land.

Commission member Evan Pratt, who also serves as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, asked whether WCPARC could require buffers along the stream. Yes, Freeman replied – the easement gives WCPARC the right to work on a management plan using guidelines from the National Resources Conservation Service [formerly known as the U.S. Soil Conservation Service].

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation to purchase a conservation easement on the Bloch/Vreeland Road property in Superior Township for $613,500.

NAPP: Rogers Property

Freeman also made the presentation for this recommendation, supported by ALPAC, to contribute $95,731 toward the purchase of a conservation easement on the Rogers family property in York Township. The property consists of three parcels located along the east and west sides of Saline-Milan Road at Judd Road. Together, the parcels comprise 157 acres.

Freeman explained the proposed arrangement. Because the Legacy Land Conservancy already holds easements on other nearby Rogers properties, the conservancy would hold this conservation easement too. The conservancy has obtained an award from the federal Farm and Ranchland Preservation Program (FRPP) for 39% ($88,734) of the price. The owner, Kendall Rogers, is willing to contribute another approximately 19% ($43,859), leaving $95,731, which Freeman recommends WCPARC provide. That amount works out to $1,449 per acre.

The justification for the purchase is to increase the total amount of protected acreage in the area to 725 acres. Freeman explained that WCPARC could set guidelines for the owner to ensure that the use of the land continues to be a positive influence on water quality.

NAPP: Rogers Property – Commission Discussion

Discussion focused on the details of the financial arrangement, and the question of why conservancy, which is not contributing anything to the proposed purchase, would hold the easement.

Freeman explained that WCPARC staff and ALPAC agreed to that arrangement because the Legacy Land Conservancy already holds easements on nearby properties, and because that nonprofit had obtained the FRPP grant, which would contribute toward the purchase price. Should the conservancy cease to exist, Freeman assured the commission, the easement would go to WCPARC.

Outcome: Unanimous approval of the recommendation that WCPARC contribute $95,731 toward the purchase of a conservation easement on the 157 acres of Rogers Property in York township, said conservation easement to be held by Legal Land Conservancy.

East County Recreation Center

A proposal to build a new recreation center on the east side of Washtenaw County, in downtown Ypsilanti, began over two years ago. It contemplates a partnership between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC in which the city would supply the property and WCPARC would provide the building. The Ann Arbor Y would then contract with WCPARC to manage the center, which would be located on part of the 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage from WCPARC's Dec. 10, 2013 meeting.]

Coy Vaughn, WCPARC’s deputy director, presented a summary of the proposed purchase and development agreement between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC. Commissioners had been briefed on the basic features of the agreement at their Dec. 10, 2013 meeting.

This was not an action item for WCPARC, but rather a review of the basic terms of the agreement and the changes under consideration. [.pdf of staff memo and draft agreement]

Vaughn reminded commissioners that there would be a second agreement, between WCPARC and the Ann Arbor YMCA, for the Y to manage the rec center after WCPARC builds it. Some of the proposed changes came at the request of the Y, he said.

Vaughn’s presentation reviewed what he had detailed in December:

  • Exact location and size of the parcel: 4.1 acres on the northwest corner of Water Street site, adjacent to Michigan Avenue and the Huron River, plus a 100-foot greenway.
  • Purchase price: $1, plus WCPARC’s contribution of infrastructure worth a total of about $900,000, including a border-to-border trail worth $650,000.
  • Size and orientation of the building: 45,000-50,000 square feet on Michigan Avenue with no more than a 10 foot setback. Pedestrian access across the site to the river.
  • The proposed site plan and building design: Building at least 35 feet tall; entrances from the parking lot, from Michigan Ave., and from the B2B trail.
  • Timeline for approvals, permits, and construction: Allows 270 days to secure all governmental approvals and closing within 30 days of approvals; termination clause if WCPARC can’t secure approvals or is not satisfied with the condition of property. Construction to start within 6 months of closing and be complete within two years.
  • Plan for infrastructure development beyond the parcel footprint: Vaughn stressed the flexibility to modify the parcel configuration and infrastructure, if opportunities arise to coordinate with a developer.
  • Roles and responsibilities: the city of Ypsilanti will maintain the linear park and trail. WCPARC will build Parsons Street and Water Street.
  • Terms of parcel transfer, and legal responsibilities for the development and opening of the recreation facility were also outlined.

Vaughn also briefly described the proposed changes to the agreement. Highlights included putting parking in the rear of the site; constructing all streets to city standards, including sidewalk and street trees; providing appropriate easements for pedestrian access across site; allowing flexibility for parking configuration and number of spaces; inserting language to prohibit future fitness centers on the site (a restrictive covenant); and adding a requirement to follow the local zoning ordinance.

East County Recreation Center – Commission Discussion

Discussion began with the proposed requirement to follow local zoning ordinances, with Vaughn saying that the county’s legal counsel had problems with it.

Dan Smith – a Republican who also serves as a county commissioner, representing District 2 – pointed out that the county doesn’t have to follow city zoning codes. These issues often relate back to costs, he said, because zoning compliance can add to the project’s costs. All taxpayers across the county will incur costs for this recreation center, he added, “and I’m not keen on it costing more to make Ypsi happy.” He was hesitant to agree that the county would unequivocally commit to following the city’s zoning.

WCPARC director Bob Tetens indicated that the entire Water Street site would probably be a planned unit development (PUD). [This type of zoning designation is in a sense customized, with zoning agreements developed specifically for a particular project. More information about Ypsilanti’s zoning map and ordinances is available on the city's website.]

Discussion then turned to timing. Tetens said he had talked to the YMCA, and it’s important to them to have a soft opening in December 2016 and the real opening in January 2017 for maximum membership. To achieve that, he continued, “We have to get going in the next two to three months.”

Commission member Jan Anschuetz asked whether WCPARC would put a proposal on the ballot this year for renewal of the county’s 10-year parks & rec operations millage. Tetens said yes, but that a proposal has not yet gone to the county board of commissioners. Any millage or bonding proposal must be put on the ballot by the county board.

The countywide parks & rec operations millage is a 10-year, quarter-mill tax that was first approved in November 1978, and subsequently renewed in 1984, 1994, and 2004. The current millage expires on Dec. 1, 2016. Typically, a renewal proposal is put on the ballot two years before the existing millage expires. Tetens indicated that it’s important to know if that millage funding will be available, prior to building the east county rec center.

As for the rec center, Tetens indicated there was no need to seek board approval until after bids for the project were in, likely next year. Waiting until next year also would “get it away from an election year, so it will not be a hot potato,” he said. Finally, he explained that the project needs hard numbers before being presented to the board.

Bob Marans – a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning – brought up the issue of architect selection for this major project. Vaughn said that staff were thinking of a national search. Tetens added that there would be multiple presentations from potential architects, and that there would probably be teams of architects with different specialties.

Tetens said the agreement with the YMCA had to be finalized, with the help of a person from the national Y who looks at the numbers and helps with the agreement. He hopes to have a memo of understanding with the Y before WCPARC’s March meeting. All of these items will come back to the March WCPARC meeting.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Connecting Communities

Commissioners received a separate packet consisting of a background memo on the Connecting Communities program, and copies of five applications for funding, which covered six proposed projects. [.pdf of staff memo] [.pdf of applications]

Dan Ezekiel, Bob Marans, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

WCPARC members Dan Ezekiel and Bob Marans.

According to the staff memo, in May 2009 WCPARC authorized the Connecting Communities initiative, through which it would make up to $600,000 available annually from 2010 through 2014 – a total of $3 million – toward the cost of eligible trail projects. According to the memo, “eligible projects will be those that accomplish the Commission’s primary objective of providing valuable non-motorized connections between communities and activity centers, offering a healthy alternative for recreation, transportation, fitness, and energy conservation.” Grant recipients have two years to fulfill any contingencies, such as acquiring grants from other organizations.

By way of background specific to Ann Arbor, the city was granted $300,000 in 2013 (of total cost of $1 million) for 1,500 feet of trail, part of a project for the “development of pathways, storm water features to improve the quality of Allen Creek…on property which will serve as a trailhead for the proposed Allen Creek Greenway.” The site includes city property at 721 N. Main. Paths will connect Felch Street to both North Main and west Summit Street. The proposal stated that the city would also apply for a match from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MDNRTF), and that the city would consider using the adopt-a-park program to help maintain the facility. The grant required success with the MDNRTF, but the city’s application in 2013 failed. The city has another year to try again.

WCPARC developed criteria for selecting projects, which include 10 primary considerations. Among those considerations are projects that provide important links between communities, parks and other points of interest, that are adjacent to waterways, or that are major multi-jurisdictional efforts. There are 14 types of projects that generally are not eligible, such as trails solely within existing local parks.

Applicants must document a compelling need for a project, and there are six criteria that are used to evaluate the projects. For example, projects are evaluated based on whether they directly relate to the county’s important natural features, such as a river. The Huron River corridor is WCPARC’s highest priority. Five secondary criteria – such as land availability, or the likelihood of funding from other sources – are then applied to high-ranking projects.

The process for selecting projects to be funded involves a staff review of the applications. The projects are then presented to the Greenways Advisory Committee, which provides input that staff uses to prioritize the applications and make recommendations to WCPARC for final approval.

Connecting Communities: Summary of Applications

The applications for 2014 include:

  • Ann Arbor Township: $300,000 (of total cost of $1.2 million) for two miles of pedestrian and bicycle trail connecting Parker Mill and Plymouth Road along Dixboro Road, to connect to the Parker Mill trail at Geddes and Dixboro on the south, and the proposed trail from Plymouth/Dixboro to Main Street/Cherry Hill on the north. The application states that other confirmed project funders include $600,000 in private donor matching funds; and potential project funders include the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Washtenaw County Road Commission, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation alternatives program, and additional private donors. The township has received no previous grants from the Connecting Communities program.
  • Village of Manchester: $150,000 (of $225,000 total cost) to improve an existing rail bed owned by the village into a walking/biking trail traversing the entire community and linking several parks, businesses, schools, and neighborhoods. The 13.4 acres of village-owned land has a value of at least $200,000. The Chelsea Area Wellness Foundation will provide $100,000, and the Kiwanis Club of Manchester another $2,000. Potential additional funders include community fundraising and private donations; and grants such as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21); Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and Surface Transportation Program (STP), which are both programs of the Federal Highway Administration in the federal Dept. of Transportation; and the Rails to Trails Conservancy. The village has received no previous Connecting Communities grants.
  • Northfield Township: $260,000 (of $600,000 total cost) for 2,925 feet of trail along Barker Road in Whitmore Lake, connecting Whitmore Lake’s downtown with the Northfield Township Library and Whitmore Lake Elementary School. This is the third phase of a project that received $120,000 in 2010 and $250,000 in 2011. Other confirmed project funders are $60,000 from Northfield Township, $60,000 from the Whitmore Lake Downtown Development Authority, $1,000 from the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce, and $1,000 from the Kiwanis.
  • Pittsfield Township: $400,000 (of total cost of $1.9 million) for 1.8 miles of trail, phase 2 of the Lohr-Textile greenway, extending it east from the corner of Lohr and Textile, on Textile, to the Marshview Meadow Park and the Pittsfield Preserve. Grants from WCPARC’s Connecting Communities project to the township were $300,000 in 2010; $290,000 in 2011; and $150,000 in 2013. Other potential project funders include MDNRTF ($300,000) and MDOT/SEMCOG ($1,064,708). Other confirmed funding is from Pittsfield Township (up to $400,000); and MDOT/SEMCOG ($1,064,708).
  • Ypsilanti Township: $240,000 for two projects totaling 3,032 feet (total cost of $240,000). One project (2,032 feet) would run along the east side of Tuttle Hill Road from Textile Road north across South Huron River Drive and into Ford Lake Park. The other (1,000 feet) would run on the south side of Textile from just east of South Huron River Drive to the entrance of Lakeview mobile homes. The township received $100,000 in 2010 and $250,000 in 2011, and has pledged $80,000 for project engineering.

Connecting Communities – Commission Discussion

Commissioner Jan Anschuetz commented on how difficult it would be to decide which projects get funded. She noted the popularity of new trails in Dexter, and asked whether WCPARC should authorize an extension to the Connecting Communities program.

WCPARC director Bob Tetens replied that all surveys show an 80% approval for trails. He said it would be worth discussing whether to continue the program, but noted that there are many elements to consider, such as the millage renewal and the retirement of debt on the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center proposed east county recreation center.

Outcome: There was no vote. WCPARC staff expects to make recommendations to the commission at the March 11, 2014 meeting.

Communications & Commentary

Each WCPARC meeting includes opportunities for public commentary, as well as various communications from staff and commissioners. Here are some highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Deer Damage

There is seldom public commentary at WCPARC meetings, although time is set aside at the start of each meeting for that purpose. Three people attended the February meeting, giving a coordinated presentation to call WCPARC’s attention to the great damage being done by white tailed deer to the natural environment – flora, fauna, and water quality – which it is WCPARC’s mission to protect.

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Maurita Holland and Andrea Matthies.

The first speaker was Toni Spears of Webster Township, making a second visit to talk to WCPARC about deer management in natural areas. She reminded the commission that its mission is to manage its land for the benefit of all native species and to maintain a diverse native plant population in the whole complex ecosystem. The Leonard Preserve, she said, had a deer population of over 200 per square mile, and the area from which deer are excluded has significantly more diverse life than the rest. [The Leonard Preserve is the county’s largest natural area, with 259 acres and a mile of the Raisin River.]

Outside of the deer exclosure, deer browsing on native plants has allowed invasives to thrive, frustrating WCPARC’s ability to eliminate invasives. Noting that the Huron-Clinton Metro Parks have protocols for deer management, Spears asked WCPARC to develop a long-term sustainable deer management program. She suggested starting with an assessment of the deer population this winter and developing a target level, perhaps starting with one natural area, culling the herd, and donating the harvest to those in need. “We know others will disagree,” she concluded, “but we are animal rights activists for all species. We want all to thrive. We want you to manage your property for the health of all native flora and fauna. The deer deserve to be in a healthy ecosystem.”

Andrea Matthies, the second speaker, owns five acres in Scio Township and is a master rain gardener. [Matthies is current chair of the Ann Arbor chapter of WildOnes.] She spoke of her unfulfilled hope, when she moved to the property, to create a paradise for native small mammals and birds. The deer, she said, are numerous and utterly fearless. She hired people to bow hunt and in the last 15 years the hunters have killed 100 deer on her five acres. She pointed out the damage done by car-deer collisions and Lyme disease, which she said is a major problem in every county in the state and more serious than most people think. [The Centers for Disease Control reports three cases in Michigan in 2003, increasing to a probable 98 cases in 2012.] The third danger deer pose is to spread chronic wasting disease, she said. [The state of Michigan has a website on CWD.]

The third speaker, Maurita Holland, is a master gardener and master rain gardener who once lived on 15 acres near Ann Arbor. She said she would invite hunters to cull deer there. She now lives in Ann Arbor’s northwest side on property through which Newport Creek runs. Her concerns include water quality. She noted that deer destroyed her rain garden last summer, which is especially unfortunate because her land drains 20 acres of neighboring land and the deer have ruined her efforts to filter the runoff.

In addition to eating her native plantings, the deer browse viburnum, and nine deer bed down in her yard. They eat holly through the netting she hoped would keep them away; since they can’t digest it, they vomit it. A deer died in her yard this year and she paid $300 for its removal. Deer dug up daffodil bulbs right after she planted them, even though they won’t eat daffodils. Holland closed by reminding WCPARC that county residents want protection, preservation, and management of natural resources and improvement of water quality. She asked: “Can we work together to accomplish some of these important goals?”

Communications & Commentary: Deer Damage – Commission Discussion

Bob Marans began by stating that the county board of commissioners is beginning to address this issue. Dan Smith, who also serves on the county board, added that there would be a working session on issues about deer, with a presentation by Timothy Wilson from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. [That session occurred on Feb. 20, 2014.]

Marans added that the Huron-Clinton Metropark Authority has done a survey and will do more. Jan Anschuetz raised a new issue in response to the concept of sharpshooters or bow hunters culling the herd: Is it legal to hunt on county land?

As background, county ordinance 128  – which established the NAPP program and assigned WCPARC to manage NAPP – begins with a “declaration of purpose” that includes this statement: “Passive recreation would be appropriate use of this land.”

The section on definitions includes this statement:

“Passive Recreation” means walking, jogging, bird watching, nature studies, quiet picnicking and other quiet inactive pastimes.

The discussion at WCPARC included some speculation about whether culling the herd would be “hunting,” or whether it would be carrying out the requisite “stewardship” of the land in the manner suggested by the three speakers.

Marans said he was anxious to know what the board of commissioners is thinking. He indicated that he’d like to know more about this from staff at the next meeting, and to know what the managers of the natural areas think.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Communications & Commentary: New, Outgoing Commissioners

Bob Marans invited the newest commission member, Dan Ezekiel, to talk about his expectations. Ezekiel expressed delight at joining WCPARC, adding that no one can replace Nelson Meade. [Meade, who has served on WCPARC from its formation in 1973, retired in December of 2013.]

Ezekiel said he has followed WCPARC by reading reports in The Chronicle, and that he has worked with Tom Freeman in the past. [Ezekiel formerly served on the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission. He was appointed to WCPARC at the county board's Jan. 22, 2014 meeting.] Ezekiel described himself as an intrepid biker who commutes daily, with gloves and studded tires.

Jan Anschuetz thanked WCPARC staff for the wonderful party to honor Nelson Meade.

Communications & Commentary: Misc. Issues

Commission members discussed a letter that some of them, but not all, had received from residents along Jennings Road, which leads to Independence Lake Park. Concerns in the letter included the safety, trees, and drainage related to work the county road commission will undertake. Evan Pratt, who also serves as the county’s water resources commissioner, described the drainage problems caused by the soil, which is makes handling stormwater difficult and requires a ditch.

Marans reported that he, Anschuetz and Pratt will meet with deputy director Coy Vaughn to discuss the goals and objectives for WCPARC’s five-year revised master plan.

Financial Reports

Each month, staff provide several different financial reports to WCPARC, focused on the past month’s expenses (the claims report), monthly and year-to-date reports on expenses and revenues in the form of fund balance reports, and a listing of major non-recurring expenses when they are significant.

There are separate reports on parks and facilities, and on the natural areas preservation program (NAPP), which includes preservation of agricultural lands. Each of these has its own, separate funding, although WCPARC administers all of these programs.

Because there was no January meeting, the February meeting received reports for the last month of the 2013 fiscal year, and for January, the first month of the 2014 fiscal year. [WCPARC’s fiscal year is the calendar year.]

Financial Reports: Claims Report

Parks and facilities paid a total of $350,649 in December, and $86,343 in January. Most of those expenses were for capital improvements, primarily at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks, plus a $75,000 contribution to Ypsilanti’s Rutherford Pool project.

NAPP claims far exceeded that with $1,445,807 in December, but only $1,390 in January. The NAPP expenses were almost entirely the cost of completing previously approved purchases of the Carr, Lippert, and Ramsey properties, a total of 235 acres in Northfield Township. [.pdf of NAPP claims]

Total expenses in December 2013 were $1,796,456; and $87,733 in January 2014. [.pdf of December 2013 claims] [.pdf of January 2014 claims]

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – Parks and Recreation

WCPARC director Bob Tetens introduced this report by saying that the fund balance was in good shape – revenues exceeded the budget, and expenses were 89% of what was budgeted.

The fund balance started the year at $12,950,815. As of Dec. 31, 2013, revenue totaled $9,917,338 – primarily from property taxes ($6,462,980) and fees and services ($3,384,207). Expenses for the year were $12,346,903. In addition, the parks budget includes an operating reserve of $6.7 million and ”partnership” funding commitments of $925,000. The projected fund balance at the end of December was $3,146,250. [.pdf of December 2013 parks & rec fund balance]

January 2014 began with a fund balance of $10,521, 250. [This is the total of the $3,146,250 fund balance on Dec. 31, 2013, plus the $6.7 million operating reserve and the $675,000 committed to funding partnerships.] Revenue as of Jan. 31, 2014 was $1,044,922 with expenses of $309,048. The operating reserve for 2014 is $6.7 million, and the funding commitments for partnerships is $820,000. [.pdf of January 2014 parks & rec fund balance]

The projected fund balance at the end of 2014 is $3,737,124.

Financial Reports: Fund Balance – NAPP

The December report showed a Jan. 1, 2013 fund balance of $10,263,644. Through Dec. 31, 2013, revenue was $3,547,655  and expenses were $6,615,388. The projected fund balance for NAPP at the end of 2013 was $7,195,911. [.pdf of December 2013 NAPP fund balance]

The January report started with the fund balance of $7,195,911 and showed revenue of $453,208. Expenses totaled $27,474, for a projected fund balance at the end of 2014 of $7,621,645. [.pdf of January 2014 NAPP fund balance]

There was no substantive discussion of the reports.

Outcome: WCPARC unanimously voted to receive, accept, and file the financial reports.

Recreation Reports

These monthly reports include attendance at WCPARC facilities where attendance can be counted, with information about participation in measurable activities and revenue received at those facilities. The reports include the current year-to-date summary as well as similar information for the prior two years.

Recreation Reports: Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center

In December at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, year-to-date participation as of Dec. 31, 2013 was 322,999 and revenue was $1,2274.466. In 2012, year-to-date participation was 324,817 and revenue was $1,163,354. In 2011, participation was 339,946 and revenue was $1,244,466.

As of Jan. 31, 2014, participation was 28,311 and revenue was $144,393. In 2012, the comparable numbers were 33,151 and $156,018. In 2012, participate was 34,901 with revenue of $142,232. [.pdf of MLM rec center report]

Recreation Reports: Pierce Lake Golf Course

As of the end of December 2013, 17,021 people had paid greens fees totaling $373,131 at Pierce Lake Golf Course. In 2012, the golf course served 19,278 people with revenues $399,049. In 2011, attendance was 15,836 with revenues of $346,049. [.pdf of Pierce Lake report]

Programming and retail operations brought in $590,975 in 2013. That compares to $110,589 in 2012; and $89,523 in 2011. Thus, total revenue in 2013 was $590,975, compared to $614,620 in 2012 and $526,501 in 2011.

There was no report for January 2014.

Recreation Reports: Rolling Hills Park and Water Park

There is an entrance fee, and gate count, for everyone who enters Rolling Hills Park. There is a separate fee, and gate count, for those who go on to enter the water park there. [.pdf of Rolling Hills report]

As of Dec. 31, 2013, 30,attendance was 836 with revenues of $241,038 for Rolling Hills Park. That compares to attendance of 34,786 people in 2012 and revenues of $268,288. In 2011, attendance was 34,844 with $267,130 in revenues.

The water park recorded higher attendance: 94,266 people bringing in $715,239 in 2013; 114,522 people in 2012 and revenues of $780,122; and 115,012 people in 2011 with revenues of $780,995.

Total revenue for all operations at Rolling Hills was $1,205,355 in 2013; $1,322,531 in 2012; and $1,310,515 in 2011. There was no report for January 2014.

Recreation Reports: Independence Lake Park and Blue Heron Bay

Blue Heron Bay is a water-feature area separate from the rest of Independence Lake Park. Because Blue Heron Bay opened in 2013, there are no comparisons to earlier years. [.pdf of Independence Lake/Heron Bay report]

As of Dec. 31, 2013, attendance was 15,437 with revenues of $122,363 for Independence Lake Park. In 2012, attendance was 17,743 with $137,217 in revenues; compared to 2011 attendance of 157,019 and revenues of $132,602.

Attendance at Blue Heron Bay was 17,668, for $69,787 in revenues. Total revenue for all of Independence Lake Park was, through December, $295,718 in 2013; $211,578 in 2012; and $209,960 in 2011. There was no report for January 2014.

Outcome: The recreation reports were received and accepted for filing unanimously.

Projects and Activities

Staff of WCPARC provide monthly updates to commissioners about ongoing improvements at facilities, and activities at parks and natural areas. Some of this information is provided in writing in the board packet; more is provided with visuals and informal commentary. This report summarizes the most significant items at the February meeting.

  • Rolling Hills Park: Construction bid documents to repair the Lazy River’s water leaks, drain cover compliance changes, and reconstruction of the stairs to Slide Mountain have been released and bids were due on Feb. 18. Eight bids were received to repair concrete walkways throughout the water park, and staff is reviewing the three lowest bids.
  • Ann Arbor skatepark: City of Ann Arbor staff had scheduled a meeting with the contractor for Feb. 18, 2014, to develop a timetable for the remaining construction work. A grand opening for June 21, 2014 is in the planning stages.
  • Staebler Farm: Staff began preparation of an application to the DNR for an Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant to develop the northern portion of the farm as a recreation-based park.
  • Border to Border Trail (B2B): The Michigan Dept. of Transportation is reviewing staff plans for the final 1/8-mile of the River Terrace Trail in Dexter. The project agreement for the MNRTF 2011 grant to the city of Ypsilanti to bridge the Huron River, cross Michigan Ave., and construct a fishing pier and connecting trails was executed, and WCPARC authorized design of the bridge and crossing. The Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) continues to lead the effort to produce revised and new maps for the B2B trail route.
  • Natural areas stewardship: A conservation plan for the agricultural portion of the Trinkle Marsh Preserve is in preparation for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  • WCPARC master plan: Staff have completed a preliminary draft and will hold public meetings in Ypsilanti, Dexter, Chelsea, and Saline in April.

Officer Elections

The nominations committee – Nelson Meade, Evan Pratt, and Rolland Sizemore Jr. – nominated Robert Marans to continue as president and Patricia Scribner as vice president. Jan Anschuetz was nominated as the new secretary-treasurer, replacing Nelson Meade, who retired from WCPARC in December 2013.

There were no competing nominations.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously elected their slate of officers.

Present: Jan Anschuetz, Janis Bobrin, Dan Ezekiel, Robert Marans, Nelson Meade, Evan Pratt, Patricia Scribner, Conan Smith, and Dan Smith.

Absent: Rolland Sizemore Jr., Fred Veigel.

Staff: Director Robert Tetens, deputy director Coy Vaughn, and consultant Tom Freeman.

Next meeting: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the county parks and recreation department’s office at 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.

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  1. March 8, 2014 at 4:40 pm | permalink

    I’m so glad that WCPARC is turning some attention to the deer infestation. Ms. Leary has written very effectively elsewhere about this problem. As a botanist, I am concerned about the loss of native plant species. As a gardener and homeowner, I resent the intrusion of deer into my city lot, where they have curtailed my ability to grow some vegetables. They have denuded my yew hedges this winter.

    As a biologist, I know that deer have a reproductive strategy that is designed to accept heavy predation. They will simply reproduce far beyond the carrying capacity of the land. The history of the Kaibab Plateau (promulgated by Aldo Leopold) is the classic example; it was later questioned but has now been validated by recent empirical studies [link]. The simple version is that deer at that location were protected from hunting, while their predators were being hunted to extreme scarcity. This caused a deer “irruption”, which meant so much pressure on the vegetation that it led to heavy deer mortality.

    I’ve also read that some of our local farming operations are being affected by deer. I hope that our officials at all levels will attempt to find a solution. Frankly, I can no longer appreciate the beauty that many still see in these graceful creatures. They look like giant rats to me.

    As an aside, I think that Ann Arbor’s fence ordinance may need to be re-examined in light of this problem. They jump over five-foot fences as you and I would step over a curb.

  2. By John Floyd
    March 10, 2014 at 11:23 am | permalink

    Non-hunting methods of culling the deer herd could include re-introduction of panthers and wolves. Now THAT would be quite a scene to have in one’s back yard.

  3. March 10, 2014 at 11:58 am | permalink

    We have had the occasional coyote, but I don’t think they can do any more than fauns.

    WEMU had an excellent feature on this issue in December [link]

    “Natural resource chili” (made with venison) Has some good links, too.

    BTW, Food Gatherers has long accepted donations of venison from hunters. Some communities across the country have initiated bow-hunt programs from which the deer killed are donated to hunger initiatives. (Note that I avoid the euphemism “harvested”.)

  4. March 10, 2014 at 5:29 pm | permalink

    I know that the Nature Conservancy allows for a limited amount of highly regulated bow hunting for deer on their properties in Michigan. I know some folks find hunting distasteful, but it does seem like a potentially effective way to reduce deer density and deer/human conflicts.

  5. March 11, 2014 at 1:02 pm | permalink

    The Michigan DNR has not yet set quotas for the year on deer hunting. Here is their page with much information about hunting in Michigan. [link]

    Note the “antlerless deer” permit digest. These permits are issued for hunting on private land and public land. They are limited within Deer Management Units. The digest on this page is for last year. Regulations are apparently finalized in July.

    There is a tension between hunters who want to ensure an easy hunt (and therefore restrict any other taking of deer) and the rest of us who would like to see the deer population managed more effectively. The antlerless deer permits are a major focus of this discussion.

  6. By Eric Boyd
    March 11, 2014 at 3:52 pm | permalink

    @5: Can you clarify the interests? I presume that hunters would prefer to hunt deer with antlers (mature males) as they are more impressive. Is there a preferred target (males, females, young, old) that biologists would prefer to be hunted to better manage the total population?

  7. March 11, 2014 at 5:28 pm | permalink

    (6) A little out of my experience but there was an article somewhere recently that discussed the issue with reference to Ann Arbor Township. There has been a lot of pressure there on crops. Farmers would like to see deer controlled, hunters want more deer.

    I think that the DNR used to prohibit hunting of antlerless deer altogether or restricted it. The purpose was to increase the population generally. That was then loosened, but a hunter-led initiative has in recent years sought to restrict taking of any but heavily-antlered bucks in order to increase the number of those with trophy-worthy antlers. Here is a discussion: [link] Note that the only people being polled on the policy are hunters.

  8. March 11, 2014 at 7:34 pm | permalink

    @6: It’s complicated, but here goes. Caveat: new laws go into effect for the 2014 season. I’m not up to date on any potential changes.

    Tl;dr: Most deer hunters prefer bucks but the degree to which they value them over does varys. Regardless most deer hunters still want to hunt does. The licensing structure in Michigan limits the ability for hunters to effectively control deer populations to some degree. There are likely a good deal of bow hunters in the county who would want to help control deer population in county parks if that were a possibility.

    I think deer management in Michigan is complicated by the fact that deer populations in the north of the state and populations in the south of the state face very different conditions, and thus exhibit different growth rates. At the risk of overgeneralization, deer in Northern Michigan face more predators, harsher winters and fewer crops with which to supplement their nutrition. Deer in the south face fewer predators, more protected areas, less harsh winters, and can supplement their nutrition with the bounty of modern agriculture.

    The state’s management strategy has to both ensure the deer population in the north doesn’t dip too low, and attempt to limit the overabundance of deer in the south.

    A bit about population biology: when it comes to predicting population growth it is generally safe to assume “the world is awash in sperm.” Now, I can’t find a source for the quote, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it up. What it’s trying to say is that, except for a few special situations, if you are concerned with population growth, you can ignore males. This is the case with deer. Sperm is inexpensive for a buck to produce; carrying a fawn to term takes a lot of energy for a doe. Thus, if we are interested in increasing or decreasing population growth, it does us little good to focus on the bucks.

    The most basic deer hunting license (AKA Deer Tag) is a standard firearm license. It allows a hunter to take a single antlered deer with a firearm between November 15th and November 30th. This makes sense for the north. It allows folks to hunt and makes sure hunting will not have a big impact on the deer population there. For the south, it means if you hunt with the most basic deer hunting license, the only way you will have an impact on the deer population is if you hit a doe with your car on your way to deer camp.

    The next level of deer license is an archery license. This allows a hunter to take an antlerless or antlered deer between October 1 and January 1. So a hunter hunting with this license has the potential to impact deer populations by removing does.

    Now, without going too far into this, there are also a certain number of antlerless deer licenses. These allow hunters to take antlerless deer during the early antlerless season in September, the standard bow and firearm season, and the late antlerless season. The number of antlerless tags is determined for each Deer Management Unit based on population size. For example, in 2013 Cheboygan County had 400 private land and 700 public land antlerless tags available. Washtenaw Co. on the other hand had 1500 private land and 15000 public land tags available. Some UP DMUs had no antlerless tags in 2013.

    These antlerless tags offer an opportunity for hunting driven population regulation. Additionally, when farmers receive nuisance permits to deal with deer damage to crops, the tags they get only allow them to take antlerless deer.

    So there is some opportunity for population regulation via antlerless hunting. Unfortunately a hunter has to go beyond buying the most basic hunting license to do so.

    As for hunters and their preferences for bucks versus does. That is tricky. Traditionally, hunters sought bucks. Indeed, I don’t know any hunter who would go for a doe over a 10 point buck if both were in the same field and offered equally good shots. That said, a lot of the hunters I know actively go for does. They are more abundant and the meat tastes better. Also an increasing number of deer hunters are becoming involved in Quality Deer Management, or QDM. Proponents of QDM eschew hunting young bucks in favor of larger does. This strategy aims to promote healthy (often lower) population levels and lets the young bucks grow into large trophy bucks.

    So the preference of deer hunters in regards to bucks versus does are complex, but I feel like there is a shift happening right now and more folks are starting to favor hunting does, especially in areas where overpopulation is an issue. However effective hunting based population control in southern Michigan is somewhat hampered by the basic licensing structure which treats the entire state as a single region. Some states have tried programs along the lines of “bag a doe, earn a buck” whereby deer hunters in areas with an overabundance of deer must first take a doe in order to earn their buck tags, but I am unsure of the efficacy. If Washtenaw County were to allow local bow hunters an opportunity to hunt does in areas where there is an overpopulation issue, I am sure there would be residents interested in participating.

  9. March 11, 2014 at 10:24 pm | permalink

    Re: [8]

    This is one of those evergreen topics. From the Dec. 1, 2008 city council caucus:

    Derezinski raised the issue of deer and the possible need to cull the herd. Higgins expressed some skepticism that they were actually a problem, asking if anyone had heard of someone hitting a deer in the city. She said she thought people basically enjoyed looking at them. She said she was not in favor of killing them. Briere said she didn’t want to kill them, either. Derezinski said he wasn’t necessarily in favor of killing them, but thought there were other options like tranquilizing them and relocating them.

  10. By John Floyd
    March 12, 2014 at 5:52 pm | permalink

    Glad to know that issues under the heading of “Natural Areas Preservation” are ever-green.