They say government is all about who you know and how they can help you, and that may be true. But not in the way you think. Sometimes, the big government project isn’t about lining pockets or personal gain. Sometimes, it’s about neighbors coming together to create something bigger than themselves.
That’s what this story is about. It’s a tale that includes two township supervisors, a state senator and a couple local businessmen among others. It includes backroom meetings, Lansing hearings and anonymous promises. But again, those aren’t what you think.
This is the story of the North Grand River Riverfront Park in Lowell Township.
PARK MORE THAN A DECADE IN THE MAKING
Jerry Hale, current supervisor for Lowell Township, credits former supervisor John Timpson with the idea of the creating a park on the north side of the Grand River. “His dream was always to have a bridge across the river,” he says.
In 2003, the township completed the South Grand River Riverfront Park which had been developed under the direction of Timpson. However, the prospect of connecting that park to the north side of the river seemed questionable, especially since the township didn’t own the property there.
Or at least they didn’t until an 11-acre parcel become available in a tax sale. “Municipalities have first choice [to purchase] at tax sales if it’s for public use,” Hale explains, and the township board jumped at the chance to buy it.
LOCAL BUSINESSES AND BENEFACTORS STEP UP WITH FUNDS
However, 11 acres doesn’t make for much park space so Hale set out to find a way to expand the property. Local businessman Sam Noon owned the adjoining property and after hearing about the township plans, he was agreeable to selling 20 acres at a price well below the market value.
Noon wasn’t the only businessman onboard with the park. Hale found many local companies were happy to offer support, with one owner beckoning him to the backroom so he could write a check on the spot. To date, some of the largest park donors include Bernard’s Ace Hardware, Canfield Heating and Plumbing, Root Lowell, All-Weather Seal and Earthworm Dozing and Excavating.
Beyond the business owners, others began to take notice of the township plans. Donations began to roll in from a number of private citizens including a $100,000 anonymous contribution from a township resident. Meanwhile, another resident heard about the park and promptly donated all the materials needed to build a gaga pit, an enclosure used to play a form of dodge ball.
STATE FUNDING SEALS THE DEAL
While money was coming in from local sources, it was only a drop in the bucket for the $3.8 million total cost of the project. Of that, $2.5 million was needed to pay for the bridge to connect the new park to the existing one south of the Grand River.
As the township grappled with how to cover this expense, news of the project traveled to Lansing. One day, Hale found himself surprised by a visit from Senator Dave Hildenbrand, who represents the township in the Michigan Senate. He had heard the bridge would be delayed to a later phase of construction until the money could be raised. “He stopped by and said, well maybe I can help you move that up,” Hale remembers.
True to his word, Hildenbrand returned to Lansing and began working with the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development to determine whether any grant funds could be accessed for the bridge. He was able to secure a $2.5 million grant which was announced earlier this year, and Hale has since been invited to give a presentation to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board with the hope that perhaps more money will be earmarked for the project.
STILL WORK TO BE DONE
Despite the state money and funds from local businesses, Hale says the township still needs to raise another $300,000 in private donations. To raise money, the township is offering the opportunity for businesses and individuals to sponsor baskets for the disc golf course planned at the park. Of course, those who don’t want to sponsor a basket are welcome to donate as well.
Other amenities planned for the North Grand River Riverfront Park include a walking trail, a basketball and volleyball court and a replica of an early fur trading post to be used by the Lowell Area Historical Museum for school group visits and other educational activities. Construction is slated to take place next year.
Hale says there are exciting possibilities presented by the park. Not only will it allow trailways on both sides of the river to connect, but it may also become a stop for those canoeing or kayaking down the Grand River. “If you have something you really believe in and you block out the naysayers, you can accomplish things even beyond your wildest dreams,” Hale says.
So what is the real story behind a multi-million dollar government project? The real story is residents, businesses and government officials working together to make something amazing happen for the community.