12-15-2016 County lands $296,000 DNR grant for phase 1 of planned Watervliet County Park; WMU studen

DDA MEETS WITH WMU STUDENTS… Bob Becker, Watervliet City DDA Chairman (standing far left) introduces WMU Team Leader Samuel Kline (at the podium) prior to a presentation on “Watervliet – The Biggest Little City”. A group of masters level students at Western Michigan University worked on a class project where the students prepared plans and ideas that the city could use to expand the number of residents and visitors alike that will come to Watervliet. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)

County lands $296,000 DNR grant for phase 1 of planned Watervliet County Park

By Annette Christie

Berrien County has been awarded a grant for the development of Watervliet County Park located along the Paw Paw River in Watervliet. The Berrien County Parks Commission announced that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has recommended $296,000.  Berrien County had submitted a grant application in the amount of $300,000.

This Phase 1 park development includes approximately 20 acres on the east side of M-140 with one mile of Paw Paw River frontage.  Natural features include river frontage, a pedestrian bridge connecting to an 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.  The 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 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund plays a vital role in supporting natural resource protection, recreation opportunities, tourism and the economy for the people of Michigan and Berrien County.  This development funding will allow us to transform property currently owned by the Berrien County Brownfield Authority into a wonderful regional county park.  We will be able to provide hiking trails, birding and wildlife viewing and wonderful fishing access in a truly beautiful and unique area of Berrien County,” said Dick Schinkel, Berrien County Parks Commission Chairman.

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 funded.  All grant recipients are required to provide 25% in local matching funds.

The recommendations of the trust fund will now move to the legislature for funding approval and to Governor Snyder for his signature.  Typically, this part of the process is completed by summer.  Construction will likely begin in the spring of 2018 with an anticipated completion in the fall of that year.

The total project of Phase 1 is estimated at $600,000. The Berrien County Board of Commissioners in March of this year pledged up to the remaining $300,000 needed after an estimated contribution of $50,000 coming from friends and supporters of the park.

Parks Director Brian Bailey said that the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund received 144 grant applications for this grant cycle.  Berrien County received 380 points out of a possible 520, topping last year’s score of 270.

Berrien County has developed a park master plan for 52 acres in all of water-front property in the City of Watervliet that was acquired through its Brownfield Authority.

Berrien County has been very successful in receiving these types of grants, most recently for a renovation and improvements at Rocky Gap County Park, which sits on Lake Michigan.  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.

WMU students present a vision for the “Biggest Little City” to Watervliet DDA

By Annette Christie