01-31-2019 Paw Paw River County Park to acquire additional 64 acres across the river, state grants

Paw Paw River County Park to acquire additional 64 acres across the river, state grants eyed for improvements; Five-Year County Parks Plan in the works

By Annette Christie The exciting news was first announced in August 2018 that Berrien County may be able to acquire more land for the expansion of Paw Paw River County Park in Watervliet. It seemed appropriate that the announcement came at a Berrien County Parks & Recreation Commission meeting which was held at Watervliet City Hall.

ADJOINING PROPERTY… Berrien County is seeking to acquire additional property (contained in the blue circle to the right) for the possible expansion of Paw Paw River County Park located in the City of Watervliet. The adjoining property, across the river from the park (circled in red), with approximately 63 acres, will be purchased from the Enders family as they have the desire for their property to become part of the park. The Berrien County Board of Commissioners authorized moving forward with the purchase at their Thursday, Jan. 24 meeting.

Parks Director Brian Bailey told the Parks and Recreation Commission that local resident Fran Enders had approached the county about the approximate 64 acres that she owns across the river from the island which is now a part of Paw Paw River County Park. Bailey said that in the discussions with Enders she understood that it could take some time to get the funding, which would hopefully come from a grant, in order for a purchase of the property to be completed. On Thursday, January 24, 2019, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, through a resolution, authorized Bailey to move forward with the acquisition of the property. As the county prepares to update its five-year plan, it can include this property in that plan which helps in grant applications. Paw Paw River County Park opened in October 2018 and quickly became a popular attraction to the northern part of the county. The park located on the east side of M-140 in the City of Watervliet, includes approximately 3.5 acres with one mile of Paw Paw River frontage, and is directly across the river from Hays Park. Work completed during the development includes improvements to the river frontage, a pedestrian bridge connecting to the island, mature trees, a scenic walking trail on the island and other recreational opportunities. The park connects Watervliet directly to the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan on the designated Paw Paw River Water Trail. This location is a trailhead and includes an ADA kayak launch, hard surface walkways, a parking area, security lighting, trash and recycle bins and bench seating which enhances recreational opportunities for the region. Two viewing decks are located off of the island trail. The estimated cost, $646,321, had multiple sources for the funding. A generous $25,000 donation from the “Friends of Paw Paw River County Park” was given to exhibit the community’s support of the project. The receipt of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant in the amount of $296,000 was matched by Berrien County by both endowment fund and general fund budgets. The Berrien County Parks Department plans to apply for another Trust Fund Grant for the acquisition of the property for a total cost of approximately $104,000. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund was established in the mid seventies and is funded through the proceeds from oil and gas development on state owned lands. The fund was established by statute and has a board that reviews all the applications for those funds. Every year one third of the funds raised through those proceeds are used by state and local governments for the acquisition and/ or development of recreational properties. No more than 25% can be used for development so the rest is for acquisition. Berrien County has been the recipient of these funds many times in order to acquire, build, and improve their Parks & Recreation offerings. The Berrien County Parks Department is now hosting open houses for the purposes of obtaining public input on the 2020-2024 Berrien County Parks Five Year Plan. The next open house will be held on Wednesday, March 20 at Love Creek County Park. The open house will be from 3-4:30 p.m., followed by the Parks & Recreation Commission meeting at 5:30 p.m., and another open house from 7-8 p.m. Love Creek County Park is located at 9292 Huckleberry Road, Berrien Center. Paw Paw River County Park joins an expanding list of park options for visitors and residents alike in Berrien County. Silver Beach County Park is located in St. Joseph at the mouth of the St. Joseph River and on the beach of Lake Michigan. In addition, the park provides public access to the South Pier. During the sum