09-07-2017 Hartford Public Schools to open September 11; Paw Paw River County Park progress waiting

Paw Paw River County Park progress waiting for permits; County moves to return remaining paper mill lands to Watervliet City & Township

By Annette Christie

The future Paw Paw River County Park, located in the City of Watervliet, is still in progress as county officials await the permit applications to be issued.  Following a grant award in December 2016 from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, Berrien County started the process of establishing a county park in the northern part of the county, a first.

MOVING FORWARD… work is expected to begin in 2018 to develop the new Paw Paw River County Park in Watervliet. Pictured is the entrance to the area on M-140 built with grant money for the present canoe launch and parking lot. The signage includes historical information on the papermill site and the dam removal project. The County project includes fishing sites, more parking and a pedestrian bridge to the island on the river. (TCR photo by Karl Bayer)

The park development includes approximately 20 acres on the east side of M-140 with one mile of Paw Paw River frontage, 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, and other recreational opportunities.  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.

The grant amount awarded was $296,000 with matching funds being provided by the Berrien County Parks Department as well as private donations in the amount of $25,000.

The property is currently owned by the Berrien County Brownfield Authority and was obtained when the Brownfield cleaned up the old papermill property and its surrounding properties. Some of the property was used to establish an industrial area off of Red Arrow Hwy.; however, the Brownfield Authority has been unable to sell the remainder of the property, for one reason or another. In an effort to turn the property over for a public purpose, this property will be deeded over to Berrien County for the purposes of providing the public park.

Originally, Berrien County had developed a park master plan for all 52 acres of the Brownfield property; however, the other areas will now be turned over to Watervliet City and Watervliet Township accordingly.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund receives its funding from royalties from the lease and sale of State owned mineral rights. No tax dollars are used for the grants that are provided.  All grant recipients are required to provide 25% in local matching funds.  In this year’s grant cycle there were 144 applications.

Original estimations were that construction would likely begin in the spring of 2018 with an anticipated completion in the fall of that year for the Paw Paw River County Park.

Berrien County has been very successful in receiving these types of grants. The renovation and improvements at Rocky Gap County Park, which sits on Lake Michigan, were the most recent grant funded completed park. At Rocky Gap the County added barrier free access to the beach, restroom buildings, an overlook seating area, and a shade shelter with picnic tables on the lower level.  On the upper level they were able to add a lake view overlook deck, picnic pods with tables, and a parking area.

The permit applications that are pending are through the DEQ due to the placement of a bridge to the island and additional work on the island.  The county is also waiting for the final environmental test results before completing the deed transfer to the park and officially naming it.

The park project coming to Watervliet nicely compliments the local and state initiative to clean debris out of the Paw Paw River Water Trail.  In June of 2016 it was announced that a $100,000 grant would be made available to help clear debris in the Paw Paw River Water Trail and provide access sites for canoes and kayaks.