Despite false starts, Macomb Parks are forging ahead with big spring plans

As Southeast Michigan slowly transitions from winter to spring, Mary Bednar is focused on what's happening at Clinton Township's parks. She's the director of public services for the Macomb County township and is eager for this year's weather to warm up. 

"Just about when we think the weather is cooperating with us. It goes to 32 degrees and snows," she says, referring to a late-April snowfall. "But we're slowly, but surely, getting things back open." 

Other than the occasional snowflake, city workers there are taking the seasonal change in stride. They're opening up park bathrooms that have been closed all winter, grooming trails, and doing what needs to be done to make Clinton Township's outdoor recreation areas amenable to visitors. 

The township is also looking to hire new staff to help run activities and maintain park grounds. As with a lot of municipalities, Clinton Township's Parks and Recreation Department has been understaffed for the last few years. It recently raised pay rates in an effort to attract more applicants. The park system has also released its new summer calendar of events, which can be viewed online.

Beyond these routine activities, however, the park system is also gearing up for several upgrades and additions this year. George George Memorial Park will be the focus of much of these changes. It's slated to get a parking lot expansion and a new boat launch, connected to a $300,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant. The parking lot will be located on some newly acquired land and will be able to accommodate several dozen vehicles. Under the grant, the park will also be getting a universally-accessible kayak/canoe launch that will allow access to the main branch of the Clinton River. 

While the grant has already been awarded, Clinton is still awaiting a project review on the parking lot expansion and kayak/canoe launch from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Once the township gets the green light from the agency, they'll begin bidding on construction, which they hope to have completed before December.

Bednar believes the launch will make it more convenient for park users to travel along the Clinton River to other locations with similar facilities like Rotary Park in Sterling Heights and McArthur Park in Mt. Clemens. 

"It's a really easy leisurely canoe ride," she says. "So I think George George is going to be a good stopping point or starting point, especially for people with young kids who want to be out in nature."

The township has also received funding from a federal Housing and Urban Development grant to install a universally accessible kayak/canoe launch at Budd Park. While there is currently an informal limestone boat launch there, the new launch is designed to be convenient and accessible for people of varying abilities and skill levels. 

Beyond that, Clinton Township is also looking forward to building a new bike path connecting Budd Park, Canal Park, and Civic Center park with George George Park. The project will be funded, in part, by a state Transportation Alternatives Program Grant. Work on the trail is expected to be completed this summer. 

George George Park, Clinton TownshipMacomb Municipal Parks

Clinton Township isn't the only Macomb County park system to be getting some upgrades in the near future.

New Baltimore is looking forward to installing a new universally accessible playscape at Walter and Mary Burke Park. It will feature a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round as well as a cozy dome, a climbable structure designed to reduce sensory and auditory stimuli, as well as other play structures incorporating a range of sensory, tactile, visual, and auditory play features and ADA-accessible paths and seating. The new playscape is being funded in part by a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign, which is being matched by $100,000 in Michigan Economic Development Corporation funds.

A new playscape border is also being installed at New Baltimore's Maynard "Red" Aurand Memorial Park at 24 Mile Road and Huntley Avenue and new mulch is being added to the site. The city also plans on upgrading baseball and our soccer fields there later this spring and summer. Meanwhile, Ruedisale Park will soon be undergoing a $300,000 shoreline restoration. Funded partially by a $25,000 US Fish and Wildlife Service grant, the project will remove the previous rip-rap shoreline, replacing it with a native vegetation shore protected by a wave attenuation system. Work on that is expected to kick off later this year. 

In St. Clair Shores, visitors to Blossom Heath Park can look forward to the installation of a new $200,000 dinosaur play structure. The city will also be expanding an existing fishing pier there 400-feet into Lake St. Clair and adding new play structures at Veterans, Welsh, and Brys park.

And, perhaps most exciting of all, Macomb Township will be getting a brand new 14-acre recreation area called Pitchford Park. Located at 22 Mile Road and Romeo Plank Road, the park will feature tennis and pickleball courts, walking trails, bathrooms, and a dog park. Pamela Pitchford and Joe Kay donated the property for the new park in honor of their late parents. Construction costs are being funded by the sale of township land. The township is now preparing bids to build the new facility. It expects to break ground on the project this summer and have the park open by next spring. 
Shelden Trails, Stony Creek Metropark (Nick Hagen)Metroparks

Macomb's Huron-Clinton Metroparks are also busy with their own developments. It's closing in on the redevelopment of Stony Creek Metropark's Shelden Trails. The work on the trails,  which involves adding hand trails, linking up with Oakland Township and expanding the total trail system to 11 miles, is scheduled to be completed later this month. 

The park authority is also looking forward to the construction of an off-leash dog area at Stony Creek later this year. 

"Dog owners can look forward to two fenced areas of nearly three acres each (allowing for small dogs and all dogs alternating to reduce turf wear)," says Danielle Mauter, Huron-Clinton Metroparks, chief of communications. "Owners and furry visitors will enjoy a concrete bullpen with water bottle/pet filling station, benches, planting bed, and dog waste stations."

Park users will be able to access the off-leash dog area via a 10-foot wide asphalt path connecting the bullpen with a parking lot. An accessible portable toilet will also be located on-site. A $50,000 Natural Resources Trust Fund grant is helping to fund that project, with Huron-Clinton Metroparks contributing roughly $113,500 through a combination of in-kind services and financing from the Metroparks Capital Project Fund.

Beyond that, the Metropark system is focusing strongly on improving its park infrastructure and trails this year. Other improvements at Stony Creek include the enhancement of its Reflection Nature Trail and accessible pathways being developed adjacent to the Wintercove and West Branch picnic shelters. At Lake St. Clair Metropark, a road reconstruction project is underway to improve road access. Boardwalk resurfacing is also underway to replace decking material that has become worn out and warped.

In addition to these site improvements, the Metroparks also have a lot going on in terms of programming, from birdwatching to hayrides. Looking towards the summer months, Mauter says park visitors can expect a return of its summer concert series as well as some new exciting activities.

"I think the biggest thing, now that the weather is finally starting to warm up, is we are gearing up for summer," she says. "So we just encourage people to keep an eye out for that information as it comes."

Photos by Dave Lewinski, except where otherwise noted. 

The Macomb Parks & Trails series seeks to capture the story of the outdoor recreation, greenspace, placemaking, and emerging outdoor assets that are shaping Macomb County's future. It's made possible with funding from Macomb County.
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Read more articles by David Sands.