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Local officials eye $150 million suggested for park improvements

News Photo by Julie Riddle Behind aging playground equipment, beach visitors watch the waves at Mich-e-ke-wis Park in Alpena on Wednesday.

ALPENA — Local officials know just what they’d do with a piece of the $150 million Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to give communities to improve their parks and trails.

The money — proposed by Whitmer earlier this month as a good use for some of the state’s allotment of federal coronavirus relief dollars — could kickstart projects Alpena-area communities couldn’t otherwise afford, according to park planners.

A $700,000 revamp of Alpena Township’s Long Lake Park boat launch would draw more anglers to the already popular fishing destination, according to Jeff Kowalski, chairman of the Alpena County Parks Commission.

The parks commission hopes to move the boat launch — currently located within the park’s camping area — to a more convenient location and make it accessible to people with disabilities, Kowalski said.

Featured several times on the Outdoor Channel’s TV series Major League Fishing, Long Lake entices visiting anglers who shop, sleep, eat, and recreate in Alpena. Improvements such as boat launch upgrades, Kowalski said, would benefit the whole community for years to come.

The county’s budget can’t support such a project, however, Kowalski said.

A chunk of the millions proposed by Whitmer to go to local park improvements could make such a project possible, along with needed upgrades to the county’s two other parks at Beaver Lake and Sunken Lake.

Funding could also give a needed leg up to any of the many Alpena park projects listed in the city’s 290-page recreation plan, according to City Engineer Steve Shultz.

Improvements to Mich-e-ke-wis Park — such as the new multi-use pavilion, bike pump track, upgraded lighting, and other user-focused additions suggested in the plan — would probably top the city’s list, although commissioners would have to put their heads together to decide where such money should go first, Shultz said.

Park improvements impact residents’ enjoyment of the city more than sewer or street upgrades, Shultz said, because, “that’s what shows.”

Joe Hefele, city manager in Rogers City, said the city’s distinctive landscape — with most of its shoreline occupied not by high-dollar housing but by parks and beaches — increases the need to keep parks in the best possible condition.

A city recreation plan updated in 2019 lists possible park projects suggested by the community, including playground equipment replacement, the addition of a kayak launch or splash pad, gazebo restoration, an overhaul of the city’s beach area, and improvements to the city’s sailor’s memorial and fossil park.

Such projects could total more than $550,000, Hefele reported.

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