$9 million Lawless Park master plan unveiledPublished 8:30am Wednesday, September 2, 2009
By NORMA LERNER
Dowagiac Daily News
VANDALIA – “There are lots of priorities, but I think the first thing out of the (starting) gate will be the dog park,” said Scott Wyman, Cass County Parks director this week as he and his wife, Terri, took their miniature Schnauzers for a walk at Dr. T. K. Lawless Park.
The dog park is a newly proposed amenity at the park recently announced by an architectural firm hired by the Cass County Parks and Recreation Commission to draw a master plan.
The firm came up with lots of ideas to improve the park and reconfigure some of its existing areas to the tune of $9 million to get it all done.
If your dog is agile enough, such as “Eddie” and “Buddy,” Wyman’s dogs, they could have a good time trying out a teeter-totter, a jump wall, a ramp or just chasing after a Frisbee when the dog park is built, hopefully this spring.
Some of the major ideas in addition to the proposed three-acre dog park are a park activity center, a lodge, a nature center, a new children’s play center, a campground with cabins and M-60 access to the park.
The 850-acre park is located in Newberg Township on Monkey Run Street between Vandalia and Jones just south of M-60.
It currently is the hub of many park activities such as bicycle racing, tubing, biking, hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing, disc golfing, a volleyball court, picnicking, Boy Scout camping, an Easter egg hunt and October festivities.
This year the October Fest is Oct. 3 with an owl prowl, crafts and games for the little ones.
The master plan for Lawless Park began with a review of the county’s five-year recreation plan, discussions with the parks director about the park’s assets and liabilitiesand a meeting with the Parks and Recreation Commission to discuss park improvement ideas.
A one-day open house/workshop was held at the road commission offices to gather ideas from the public to formulate new concepts.
Approximately 50 people attended this workshop, with much of their input incorporated into the final plan.
Following the workshop, design concepts were reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Commission and department staff to further refine the plan as adjusted to the natural resources.
The proposed park plans are as follows:
The existing parking lot will be paved and expanded to accommodate increased demand such as for the handicapped plus new and enlarged parking lots to serve the proposed dog park and a nature center.
Parking lots will incorporate eco-friendly storm water management tools to infiltrate the storm water before it reaches existing wetlands.
Park activity center
The existing park activity center remains the hub for group activities and will continue to serve as the primary access point for the park’s trail system.
A lodge building, named the “Discovery Lodge,” will be constructed along Monkey Run Street. This facility will include up to 100 individual rental rooms with full amenities.
The building will also offer meeting rooms, a lobby with fireplace, a kitchen and dining facilities. The lodge will be sited to take advantage of the adjoining woodlot and will be constructed to incorporate geothermal heating and cooling.
A maintenance building will be constructed along Monkey Run Street adjacent to the park manager’s residence.
This building will include an office space and several vehicle bays for the repair and/or storage of equipment.
The existing entry drive will be adjusted to provide for a smoother path of travel and new traffic islands will be constructed at the entry point to support a new park sign and gatehouse.
Entry sign and gatehouse
A new entry sign and gatehouse will be constructed using rough-sawn cedar framing and native stone masonry to complement the park’s strong natural features.
A dog park will be constructed east of the entry drive to provide a place for off-leash dogs to play and exercise.
The park will be fenced with a double-gated entry.
The dog park will include a variety of agility and exercise equipment as well as a shade structure, benches, waste receptacles, a waste bag station and a drinking fountain.
The agility/exercise section of the park will be constructed with a crushed stone surface to minimize erosion and facilitate cleaning of waste.
Special dog exercise equipment such as ramps, teeter totters and jump walls will be installed.
Outside of this stone area, an accessible crushed stone path will meander through an open lawn to provide a space for un-programmed play and interaction with other dogs and owners.
Part of this path will loop through the adjoining woodlot.
Children’s play area
A new children’s play area will be constructed near the existing playground to provide improved play opportunities that meet current safety and accessibility standards.
The nature center will be situated along a bluff line to the north with long views across the site’s stream/wetland corridor.
In the recent past this area was cleared by a tornado which provides for good views as well as an attractive habitat for wildlife.
It will be served by a drop-off entry drive and a 70-car parking lot.
There will be an overflow parking area.
One of the existing softball fields in this area will be removed and two disc golf holes will be relocated.
The nature center with its approximate 6,000 square feet of enclosed area will incorporate a gift shop, reception and information kiosk and historical displays of Cass County and Dr. T. K. Lawless.
An audio system will provide the sounds of birds and other wildlife.
A deck will run outside the north exterior to provide outdoor viewing and function as an indoor/outdoor connection.
A tower feature will allow visitors to view nature from within the tree canopy.
A community room will provide seating for 130 people with an adjoining serving kitchen. It will function as a location for large public meetings, banquets, wedding receptions and other gatherings.
The new facility will incorporate sustainable design concepts including earth sheltering, geothermal heating/cooling, building management (controls) technologies and photovoltaic (solar and wind turbine systems) so visitors can monitor the energy generated.
The park’s extensive network of trails provides access to a variety of habitats. In a few areas with steep side slopes, sections of the trail have eroded. These areas will be repaired with native stone retaining walls. New trail markers and orientation signs will be added. New interpretive signs will illustrate and describe the park’s nature features.
Fishing piers will be added at Lime, Hogback and Doane Lake and a new section of boardwalk will cross a wetland northeast of Doane Lake.
A section of boardwalk will cross a wetland northeast of Doane Lake.
A Boy Scout built pier was recently completed at the lake to accommodate fishermen and the handicapped.
The Coy Steiding existing group camp includes 10 campsites, an amphitheatre, a fire bowl, a picnic shelter and vault toilets.
Potable water will be improved with the addition of six rustic cabins.
The cabins will be constructed with rough-sawn timbers and/or logs and will be outfitted with two sets of bunk beds.
A new vault toilet building will be added to accommodate expanded use of the camp.
M-60 access point
The park’s existing narrow right-of-way off M-60 provides access to the main park property and will be developed as a trailhead area.
This trailhead will include a small parking lot and a connector path to link the trailhead to the park’s trail system.
Future land acquisition
In the future, the farmland between M-60 and the north park property line will be purchased to provide better access.
This property borders an abandoned railroad right-of-way which has been proposed as a regional trail.
Architects O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock and Associates Inc. of Kalamazoo stress that all of the work described above will be performed with the goal of preserving and enhancing the property’s natural features while providing improved opportunities for education and interpretation.