Blog: Andrew Clock

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. - Betty Reese
Water Street Trail Project founder Andrew Clock, volunteer coordinator of the Michigan Roots Jamboree and barfly philanthropist, offers the pick-me-ups to prove that no one is ever a speck on the wall.

Post 3: Spearheading the Water Street Trail

Creating a recreation trail on Ypsilanti's Water Street Property started out the same way a lot of great ideas the bar. 

After spending the evening talking about local issues and having a few gin and tonics at the Tap Room, I was walking home thinking about the challenges that face our city.  The possible development of Water Street and its drain on City finances had been a topic of discussion on local blogs, and it occurred to me that everyone yelling about it and throwing around blame really wasn't getting us anywhere.  It struck me that if we wanted to see something positive happening with the area, then maybe actually, you know, doing something about it, might be a good way to start.  I knew there was an existing trail and a lot of open, wilderness-like area back there. With the coming demolition project, all 38 acres would be vacant.  An urban wilderness, waiting to be explored.  With that thought, and a post on, The Water Street Trail Project was born.

The basic idea, I thought, was simple.  We would take an empty piece of property on the banks of the Huron River, and using a network of vacated roads, abandoned sidewalks, and well-worn walking paths, create a trail that would wind through the property along the river.  We would use all volunteer efforts to raise any funds we might need and do all the work.  The main focus of the project would be to create an inviting trailhead at Michigan Avenue, a place to act as an entrance and introduction to the site.   In the end, a huge vacant lot would be put to public use and we would finally be able to point to something positive happening with a place that has been so much trouble for the city.  Maybe, too, by showing that the residents of the city saw value in the land, we could help a potential developer to see value in it also.  Easy enough, right?

I have to admit now, looking back, it probably did seem like kind of a crazy idea.  "Hi, my name is Andy, and I'd like your help to turn this recently reclaimed brownfield and abandoned street into a nature trail."  Fortunately, there were some city hall employees who were looking for just this kind of project, something to utilize this huge, city-owned property while permanent development was being sought.  They pointed me in all the right directions.  

First, I was introduced to the Friends of the Border to Border Trail.  This group works to support the Washtenaw County-wide trail network and organize hikes and clean up days. It turned out that Washtenaw County had long been eyeing that area for a Border to Border route, and the Friends saw the value in using a volunteer effort to help convince County Parks and Recreation to move ahead with the plan and move the B2B Trail off of local surface streets.  Our motives were different, but our goals were similar.  They sent me on to speak to Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, and they too saw value in the project. Things started to take on momentum of their own and the Trail Project went from one man's crazy idea to a community effort.

I have to give credit where it is due.  The city of Ypsilanti, and more accurately, Bonnie Wessler, from the city planner's office, made this project possible.  Following closely behind are Bob Krzewinski, director of the Friends of the B2B, Coy Vaughn of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, and, well, too many others to list here.  Bonnie was the city-designated person designated to deal with me and "that trail thing." She took to the project with enthusiasm and determination, helping show me what goals were realistic and how I could put them in reach.  She found a small grant from the Department of Community Health's Building Healthy Communities Project aimed at helping to improve walking routes in cities.  From there, Bonnie helped convince the company doing demolition and environmental cleanup on the site to build our new trailhead with just small amount of funds provided by the grant.  She is City Employee of the Year in my book.  

Bob has been my ally in publicity.  He has used the Friends of B2B to talk about the project and draw in volunteers who just want to see more trails, people I never would have come in contact with.  Coy Vaughn gave weight to our cause by expressing Washtenaw County's support for the project.  The truth is, at any point, any one of these groups could have written me off as another loud-mouth, crazy local.  Instead, they supported my idea in every way possible.  Really, it feels like all I've had to do is some talking, some writing, and sign the Adopt-a-Park papers.

So here we are. Nine months after making a proclamation that we could, should, and would make use of the Water Street Property, we have reached our initial goal. We have our Michigan Avenue trailhead.  Our volunteers have hauled out trash and beaten back the brush and weeds all the way to Waterworks Park.  There is serious talk about a pedestrian bridge to link the area with Riverside Park, a plan that would create more than a mile of continuous public riverfront in downtown Ypsilanti.  Our new trail is a little rough, but it gets the job done.  More and more people are using the area and marveling at the wilderness they find.  For the first time in years, maybe decades, there are stories in the news talking about something positive on Water Street.  And all it really took was a little effort and a lot of talking.