Future of Mich-e-ke-wis Park discussed

News Photo by Julie Riddle Community members who attended a discussion on the future of Mich-e-ke-wis Park on Tuesday evening mark their favorite suggestions made in an upbeat brainstorming session.

ALPENA –The public was invited to a meeting held Tuesday to discuss the future of Mich-e-ke-wis Park in Alpena.

Steve Schnell, senior planner with the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments, led a spirited but polite brainstorming session attended by about 55 Alpena-area residents. By a show of hands, the audience represented a handful of the park’s neighbors, half a dozen local business owners, and a few city commissioners. When Schnell asked if there were any park users present, a whole roomful of hands were raised.

Schnell led the crowd through a series of questions designed to elicit an honest reaction about what the community loves about its shoreside park, and what it wants to improve. He recorded responses on large whiteboards at the front of a conference room at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

The audience first shared a long and heartfelt list of what they love about the park the way it is. They listed such things as its open spaces, peace, spectacular sunrises, and simplicity. Also cited were the park’s outdoor sports options, lake access, and history in the community.

Schnell next called for a list of challenges the community faces in contemplating improvements to the park. Concern was raised by several audience members about the condition of the park’s roads and its use by community residents who mistreat the grounds. Mention was made of the difficulty that may be faced in funding any changes to be made, as well as maintaining not only the current park but any improvements that may be proposed.

A list of suggested improvements to the park was long and diverse. Proposed additions included a boardwalk or dock system, interpretive signage explaining the history of the park, a scenic overlook, public gathering spaces, dark-sky-friendly lighting, and recycling options. Many audience members seemed to favor the addition of a pavilion, although with the caution that it be built in such a way as to preserve a balance between openness and amenities.

Finally, Schnell called for changes that should not be made at the park. The audience voiced its opinion that the park should not be overdeveloped or turned into another Starlite Beach. At least one participant, with nods of assent from others, suggested that the park not incorporate flower beds, instead being allowed to feature the natural habitats that are already a part of its pretty presence.

After the lists were created, audience members were invited to spend a few minutes adding stars to the whiteboard to indicate what they felt should be the primary focus of the ongoing efforts to improve Mich-e-ke-wis Park.

The next step, Schnell said, will be to create several scenarios based on audience input, representing their ideas graphically in a variety of combinations. Another public forum will be held in the next month or two to invite further input, Schnell said.

Schnell invited community members who were not able to attend the meeting to contact him at sschnell@nemcog.org to be added to the email list that will receive a summary of Tuesday’s meeting.

Mary and Mike Hamilton of Alpena attended Tuesday’s meeting because they care about the city’s waterfront. In contrast to the built-up coast of areas like Traverse City, Alpena’s shoreline is gentle and open, and, they said, we need to keep it that way.

“It’s part of what’s important about Alpena, and we have to preserve it,” Mary Hamilton said.

Alpena resident Kristin Neumann, 32, said she feels it’s important for younger people to be involved in their community, and that’s why she wants to be a part of the decision-making at Mich-e-ke-wis.

“If you don’t show up, then you don’t have a voice,” Neumann said.

Hamilton talked about friends who think that if they go to meetings, nobody will listen to them.

“They may not agree, but at least you know you’ve voiced your opinion,” Hamilton said. “I tell people if you don’t voice your opinion you’ve got no right to complain.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.