Cass County parks expanding

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, March 26, 2014

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

For quite a few years, many in Cass County referred to the county’s four parks as the area’s best-kept secret.

Residents may soon have to find something else to pin that title on, though, if the county’s parks department has anything to say about it.

The Cass County Board of Commissioners approved two resolutions during their meeting last week that would provide partial funding for a number of potential upgrades and updates at Dodd, Lawless and Russ Forest parks. The county parks department plans on submitting grant applications to the state of Michigan in the coming weeks to fund the rest of these projects.

A lion’s share of the funding will go toward expansion of Dodd Park, which is located off Creek Road in Niles. The parks office has developed plans to expand the park’s parking lots, renovate its restroom facilities and build two cabins for overnight visitation.

The planned park expansion is part of the county’s efforts to stay “proactive” in anticipation of the possible demolition of the Pucker Street dam in Niles, which could bring new wildlife into the portion of the Dowagiac River adjacent to the park, said Parks Director Scott Wyman.

“If that happens, larger game fish, like steelhead trout, will move down into this portion of the river,” Wyman said. “We anticipate an influx of fishermen and casual viewers of these game fish when that happens.”

In order to accommodate this possible uptick in traffic, the parks department is looking to spend an estimated $46,000 to construct additional visitor parking, Wyman said.

In addition, his office is looking to spend $44,000 to build new restroom facilities for visitors, which will provide additional space and updated equipment. The department is also looking to spend $41,000 on the twin cabins.

“I really think the overnight component has a high possibility of being successful, based on the high use of the park in the summer,” Wyman said.

These lodging facilities are an integral part of the vision Wyman and the parks board has for the future of Dodd Park, the director said. The county may construct an additional six cabins on the site in the coming years, depending on the potential success of the first phase.

“The good thing about the cabins is that they are mobile, so if they are not successful we can move them to another site,” Wyman said.

The park’s office could also use the money generated from these cabins to support operations at both Dodd and the other county parks. Last year, the county provided around $134,000 to parks and recreation.

To fund these planned projects, the parks department is submitting a grant proposal to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for nearly $151,000. The county will match 26 percent of the grant in an amount not to exceed $39,300.

“The county is required to at least provide a 25 percent match, but the more local match you have the greater points you get for the application,” Wyman said. “The higher that you score, the more likely that you are to receive the funding.”

In addition, the parks office will apply for around $42,000 in grant funds from the Michigan Recreation Passport Grant to build new signage for Lawless and Russ Forest parks. Current signs at both these locations are more than 20 years old and are in need of updating, Wyman said.

“Visually appealing sings are not necessarily a requirement for people visiting our parks, but they are certainly appreciated,” he said. “When someone visits a park that has nice signs that can help them navigate the park, it leaves them with a good feeling about the experience.”

The county will also provide a partial match for this project, not to exceed $10,700.

These expansions and renovations to the three parks are yet another step forward in the Cass County Parks and Recreation’s five-year master plan, which the organization formally adopted more than a year ago.

“We have some good support from the community and the county,” Wyman said. “We have some good things going on right now, and we’re trying to build off that momentum.”

The department should know by fall whether or not its grant proposals have been accepted by the state, Wyman said. Should the county receive the funds, construction will begin next spring.

“They’re some pretty competitive grants, and we’re going to do our best to get them,” Wyman said. “We’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to do so.”