By DAVID GREEN
Audience members liked what they heard Monday night about a proposed walking trail through Wakefield Park and Riverside Natural Area.
Patrick Judd from Conservation Design Forum presented an overview of the proposal and answered questions during a public hearing at the start of the city council meeting.
The estimated $340,000 project would be funded through a Michigan DNR Trust Fund grant and an anonymous donor. Council faces an April 1 deadline to apply for DNR funds in the next funding cycle.
Judd said the connection to Riverside would add points to the application when reviewed in Lansing. The trail would span the existing recreational facilities of Wakefield Park, move into the open area of the property that was purchased in 2003, and finally cross a bridge into the nature park—an area that includes threatened plants and a healthy population of mussels in Bean Creek.
The trail would measure 12 feet wide in Wakefield and eight feet in Riverside. The Wakefield portion could be paved, Judd said, but he suggests a handicap-accessible hard surface in Riverside of either fine stone or crushed and tumbled glass.
Benches would be placed in some areas and picnic tables could be added to the plan.
City supervisor Barney Vanderpool noted that areas of Riverside will need to be blocked off to stop destruction from vehicles.
Janet Kauffman of the Bean/Tiffin Watershed Coalition characterized the proposal as a good opportunity to open up Riverside for increased public use while still protecting the area.
Morenci mayor Keith Pennington wondered if the project would spark additional interest in expanding the trail in the future. The trail could continue southeast and loop around the industrial park, then head north. Judd said adjacent land owners could put property into a conservation easement to enlarge the area.
He also mentioned the future possibility of seeking grants for a rails-to-trials project using the former railroad property.
“I’m very excited about the prospect of this,” Pennington said. “I’m hoping we can get it done in time for this round of funding.”
City council must update the city’s recreation plan at the March 22 meeting. If the application survives the first review, Judd said, final approval would be expected late this year or early in 2011.
Money for the DNR Trust Fund comes from leases on oil and gas fields, Judd said, and is not affected by the state’s budget shortfall.
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