River Center at Duck Park nears fundraising target

Courtesy image An artist’s rendering of the proposed River Center planned for Duck Park in Alpena.

ALPENA — The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary board is making slow-but-steady progress toward its goal of having an interactive River Center built at Duck Park.

The design plans are complete and fundraising for the project is ongoing. The plan is for construction to start in 2021 if financing goals for the project is met.

Board member Roger Witherbee said Thursday almost $300,000 has been raised toward the project. Although that doesn’t seem like much compared to the estimated $4 million price tag for the River Center, he said that amount is critical because it opens the floodgates to other funding that has been pledged.

“When we get to the $300,000 mark, we have commitments from local community foundations which are going to match that amount,” Witherbee said. “Then we will begin applying for grants and use the money we have raised as a match. From an architectural standpoint, we cold pretty much start construction, we just need to get the rest of the money for it.”

A financial feasibility study for the proposed center completed several years ago showed it would work in Alpena. A more current study is just wrapping up and Witherbee said he expects the results, which are due in a week or two, will show the same.

Board member Judy Kalmanek said Thursday the more money that is raised or donated to the project, the more of a match will be available for grants. She said that, with the design plans the way they are, only $3 million is needed to begin the project.

“It is a phase-in project, so we can do a portion of it and then add on or complete it afterward,” she said. “We know that we aren’t going to be able to raise all $4 million from in Alpena, or the five counties in the (Thunder Bay River) watershed, but I’m confident we will be able to get some grants and we’ll have the match in place for them.”

The River Center would feature large aquariums with native fish and a platform on the edge of the water where sampling, testing, and other activities can be done. Witherbee said the River Center would be a welcome and educational addition to Duck Park and Island Park.

Witherbee also said Island Park is “holding up” after rough winter weather and high water levels this spring and summer.

“In terms of erosion, we are seeing more erosion being caused from people not staying on the trails,” he said. “The island is very fragile, and there is a lot of sand that foot traffic and wind can impact. There are a lot of animals on the island, and people need to remember how lucky we are to have this in the city.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.