05-24-18 Future Paw Paw River County Park construction well underway in Watervliet; boardwalk, fish

Future Paw Paw River County Park construction well underway in Watervliet; boardwalk,

fishing platforms and bridge to island among improvements

By Annette Christie

The construction of a new park coming to the North Berrien area is well underway. Contractor TJM Services of Allegan has been on the site, located on the east side of M-140 in the City of Watervliet, and has been proceeding according to schedule.  A grand opening of the Paw Paw River County Park is scheduled for the month of August.

Berrien County Parks Director Brian Bailey said the access to the island has been established, the island trail has been cleared and tree clearing continues.

The park development includes approximately 3.5 acres with one mile of Paw Paw River frontage, and is directly across the river from Hays Park.  The plans for the park include improvements to the river frontage, a pedestrian bridge connecting to the island, mature trees, birding, fishing, a scenic walking trail on the island and other recreational opportunities.

BERRIEN LOOKS TO CONNECT THE DOTS… District 1 County Commissioner Dave Vollrath shared a sneak peak of the early stages of a potential Berrien County Parks project that could connect the county’s seven parks with a vast linear park. It would encircle the county, including the newest addition of the Paw Paw River County Park site in Watervliet, currently under construction. Speaking during his monthly visit to Hagar Township Vollrath said the concept is in the early stages of consideration and could easily be several years before the vision might be actualized. The concept is similar to the existing Kal-Haven Trail which runs from South Haven to Kalamazoo. Several trails and linear parks crisscross the entire state and gain in popularity and usage each year according the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The initial proposal calls for a 10-foot wide hard surface trail to accommodate non-motorized travel of walkers and cyclists connecting existing parks with additional trailheads and amenities located along the route. No projected budget was given, nor any timeline, as planning can best be described as a vision at this point. Berrien Parks Director Brian Bailey says, “Connecting all the county parks is a long-range goal. We have to start somewhere.”

The park will connect Watervliet directly to the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan on the designated Paw Paw River Water Trail.  This location will be a trailhead for the water trail with an ADA kayak launch, hard surface walkways, a parking area, security lighting, trash and recycle bins and bench seating which will enhance recreational opportunities for the region.  Viewing decks will enhance the walking trails on the island. Berrien County Commissioner Dave Vollrath who represents a portion of Watervliet Township, Coloma, and Hagar Township stated, “We are very excited.  The connection to the Paw Paw River Water Trail will be good for businesses and overall good for the area, especially once the Hagar Park is completed as well.”

The estimated cost, $646,321, has multiple sources for the funding which began with Berrien County receiving a grant in the amount of $296,000 from the State of Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.  A generous $25,000 donation from the “Friends of Paw Paw River County Park” was given to display the community’s support of the project. Berrien County will be funding the balance of the project through their endowment fund and general fund budgets.  This is the first county park in the northern part of the county.

Berrien County Commissioner Jon Hinkelman who represents Watervliet City and a portion of Watervliet Township said, “We are very excited for the area and we look forward to the park being completed.  I believe the park will be tremendously utilized and the Parks Department will look at making enhancements as necessary to build on an already good thing.”

Future enhancements, dependent upon use and funding, could include a restroom facility, bait and tackle concession, a fish cleaning station, a water spray pad, and a playground.  The Parks Department will be tracking use of the park.

The park project coming to Watervliet nicely compliments the local and state initiative to clean debris out of the Paw Paw River Water Trail.  The 68-mile water trail begins in Waverly Township in Van Buren County and flows through Berrien County converging with the St. Joseph River just above its mouth at Benton Harbor.  The Paw Paw River offers a scenic view to kayakers or canoeists through heavily wooded natural areas. Currently there are 22 access points where paddlers can get on the river, including the Paw Paw River campground, and Watervliet’s Hays Park.  Another access point will be included at the Paw Paw River County Park.