ROCKPORT - Department of Natural Resources staff and members of Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area got a firsthand look at what improvements Rockport State Park needs in the immediate future.
Members of the friends group toured the property with Keith Cheli, the DNR's district planner for its Parks and Recreation division. He was joined by Anna Sylvester, the Roscommon district supervisor, and Eric Ostrander, the unit supervisor for Harrisville and Negwegon state parks, on a run-through of some of the park's trails.
"The big thing is to look at the trails that are established and get them approved (by the DNR) so we can clear them," said Carol Dodge Grochowski, a member of the friends group. She and others had an up-close look at some of the work needing to be done. As the group rode in the back of two DNR pickup trucks down one of the trails, they had to constantly duck to avoid pine tree branches.
Initially, the surveying of the trails will help the group prepare for an event after an upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park, Sylvester said. It'll also help with planning for what's known as the phase three management plan, which covers the first five years after the park opens.
The tour involved driving down a path that runs through the former limestone quarry in the park and through the woods to a power line corridor. From there, the group walked to one of several sinkholes in the park. The tour ended at the former railroad grade crossing over Rainbow Creek, after a walk through the woods and along Lake Huron starting near the Besser Natural Area.
Now, DNR staff will work to secure permission for the friends group to work on the trails, Sylvester said. She added that she'll consult with Cheli to make sure that any work on the trails doesn't encroach on threatened or endangered plants found there.
Also facing DNR staff and friends group members are some of the basic questions of running a 4,200-plus-acre state park, such as access - where to put trails for horsemen, mountain bikers or hikers.
"We need to come up with a blueprint for how this will look," Cheli said. "It's going to be crucial to have public interface the whole way along."
For his part, Lynn Morrison said he's pleased with how quickly developments at the park are progressing. The friends group member attended the tour and chatted with Cheli about the property's past.
Morrison's grandfather had been the chief engineer for the company that operated the limestone mine, he said. Operations there ceased some time in the 1940s, and mining started at what is now Lafarge's Presque Isle operation. The stone had to be transported by rail to Rockport to be processed and shipped. Eventually, a shipping dock and processing equipment was built at the newer quarry, and Consumers Energy Co. acquired the property. The company considered building a power plant there, but dropped the plans and transferred the property to the state in 1997 as part of a settlement with the DNR.
After around five years of debate and planning, the DNR transferred the property from its Forest, Minerals and Fire Management Division to its Parks and Recreation Division in February. Now, Morrison wants to see the property opened up so the public can see what it has to offer, he said.
"I'm just very excited about the whole partnership that's developing here" between the DNR and the friends group, Sylvester said. "Rockport is going to be a great area, and we've got a very motivated group of volunteers."
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.