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Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to receive recreational upgrades

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Members of the First Federal of Northern Michigan Legacy Foundation, NOAA, and Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary pose with a large check for $11,000 that will help cover the costs of recreational improvements at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. Pictured from left to right are Katie Wolf, Joe Gentry, Mike Mahler, Jeff Gray, Kathy Brown, and Marty Thomson.

ALPENA — Work will begin soon on a series of projects that will link the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the adjacent skate park, and the site of the new Alpena Boys and Girls Club.

The heritage center may be closed due to the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff, and other community partners are teaming up to move forward with a series of projects to expand the NOAA campus and provide new recreational amenities for visitors and residents.

On Tuesday, the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary received a $11,000 check from the First Federal of Northern Michigan Legacy Foundation to help cover the cost of the projects, which will include sports courts and a trail to connect the Riverside Skate Park and Boys and Girls Club, when the new club is constructed on Miller Street.

It is the third grant from the foundation, totalling $33,000.

Friends of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA Liaison Katie Wolf said in 2019, the friends group was awarded a $4 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to do the large project, which included the extension of the Maritime Heritage Trail, as well as a natural playground area, a pair of pavilions, shade structures, expanded parking, up to four sports courts, and a festival space with an amphitheater.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the state redirected funding to address the pandemic and the fallout from it.

Wolf said that didn’t deter NOAA staff and the friends group, as they set out to find alternate funding to do the project in phases. The project also received support via a $57,040 grant from the Alpena County Youth and Recreation Committee from a local tax. Property owner Jeff Konczak and other private partners are also contributing materials and services.

She said much of the work could be completed in the coming weeks.

“The improvements will serve our youth and adults and give us an opportunity to get full recreation here on the north side of town,” Wolf said. “Work should begin in the next few days, and I think the pathway and the sports courts should be done before winter sets in.”

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray said when the museum was built, the land was an industrial site, which provided zero access to the Thunder Bay River. He said that since 2005 — when the visitor’s center was being completed — the transformation of the facility, the addition of the Heritage Trial, new docks, and the bridge to Rotary Island Mill Park has transformed the riverside area.

He said the next round of improvements will continue that tradition.

“All of that fundamentally changed the downtown and gave the community access to the river, which is an amazing resource,” Gray said. “This is the next step. We are creating not only a destination for visitors, but a great place for people to live and work. When we add these assets to the river, it will make Alpena a better place to live and visit.”

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

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