Years of work culminate together for Plainfield Townships Parks and Rec

Grand Isle golf property purchase, sports complex, Miracle League, Ironman event all new in 2012

by BETH ALTENA

The Plainfield Parks and Recreation Citizens Advisory Board is pictured along with Plainfield Township Parks and Recreation Director John Short (center). The board members are Sally Wesorick, Tom Wiarda, David Briggs and Chuck Weldon, who is also a township trustee. They meet four times a year and most recently at the township's parks and recreation offices on Plainfield Avenue Tuesday, May 1.

“The purchase is done; we own it; it’s open to the public now,” Plainfield Township Parks and Recreation Director John Short made this statement about the Grand Isle Golf property on West River Drive.

The 62 acres were part of property that was formerly a golf course. It is now a natural haven owned by the township and available to the public for the enjoyment of the natural beauty including wetlands, wildlife and the Grand River waterfront.

The purchase of the acreage is one of many milestones the township is seeing come to pass—the results of years of behind-the-scenes efforts.

“It’s taken 16 years to get to this place,” Short said.

The Grand River front park property was purchased with a DNR Grant Trust Fund, which is generated by oil and gas revenue from drilling on state property. The system was set in place 35 years ago and amended in 1982 after the state began appropriating the funds back into the general operating budget. It was put on the ballot that year and voters approved legislation strictly earmarking the money for park and recreation projects around the state.

The township has spent the last five years getting a grant approved by the state house and senate after the DNR committee recommended the project be funded. According to Short, the grant had to be rewritten three times over the past five years as the appraised value of the property and other factors changed.

The final purchase price of about $10,000 per acre was funded by the DNR grant with the township contributing 35 percent.

The park currently has a completed paved driveway for visitors, a dirt parking area and lots of opportunities to view nature and wildlife. Short said there are beaver lodges, wood ducks, and at least four families of foxes (some of the cubs were pictured in the Squire last spring—perhaps readers will send in more). There are hawks, and Short saw an eagle on the property over a 45-minute time span recently.

Another milestone event is the multiple sports activities that will soon be available through four different projects underway off Ten Mile Road on 100 acres of township property. The public can clearly see—and actually can’t fail to miss seeing if driving on Ten Mile west of Rockford—the first work on an Olympic-style archery complex. The excavation for the structure is taking place concurrently with the repaving and widening of Ten Mile Road. Dirt excavated from the archery site is being used to fill in as much as seven feet in a former dip in the road.

Kent County Department of Transportation Director of Engineering Wayne Harroll said the low section of Ten Mile where black ice often accumulated in winter made for treacherous driving conditions. Evening out the road with the fill raises Ten Mile’s elevation and should eliminate the problem or at least greatly alleviate it.

Development on Ten Mile, in addition to the archery complex, will also include a state-of-the-art softball/baseball complex designed to attract travel teams. It will likely draw hundreds of players, coaches, families and fans to the tournaments, which should generate a huge increase in business to the surrounding communities.

The archery project is funded in part through a $500,000 DNR grant solicited by Plainfield Township. Other funds come from the Easton Company, which manufactures, among other things, archery equipment.

Part of the ball complex will include the area’s first Miracle League ball field, one of only three in the state of Michigan and the only one on this side of the state. Plainfield Township will contribute to this project by asking the DNR for the grant to fund the majority of the cost of the field.

Currently the group of grants recommended by the DNR has been approved by the state House of Representatives, but was altered when under consideration by the Senate—a first move of its kind in the history of the earmarked Parks and Recreation grant system (see sidebar for more information).

In the grant, the township asked for $296,900 of the estimated $424,100 cost of building the Miracle Field. The additional $127,200 will be raised through other means, likely donations and sponsorships.

The fourth area of development is a mountain bike course that will share the 100-acre property with the archery complex and ball field complex. A track is already in place, developed by the Michigan Mountain Bike Association, which also has a course in Rockford’s Luton Park on Kies Rd. They will develop a mogul course for non-motorized vehicles. Both the archery complex and the mountain bike courses will be available for public use when they aren’t being used for their respective organization’s activities. In addition, the ball complex will be available for other uses by application when not being used for tournaments.

Finally, popular Versluis Park on Northland Drive will soon be open for use for the season. This park was renovated in 1999 in a design created by Short and won awards as a handicap accessible park design. Season passes for the park will go on sale the first day of the season, Sunday, May 27. According to Short, fishing has been excellent already this year with anglers taking 26- and 27-inch fish from the pure waters of Versluis Lake.

At Versluis Park this summer is another new recreational opportunity that should also have a positive impact on the economy. A national Ironman Triathlon is scheduled, the first in the state of Michigan. As many as an estimated 500 competitors from across the nation will converge here to compete in the swimming, running and biking event. Participants will swim two laps of Versluis Lake, totaling 2.4 miles, change gear, bike 112 miles along a course that will include Cannonsburg Road and Belding Road, return to the park and change gear again and run a 26.2-mile marathon. The entire three-sport event equals 140.6 miles total and takes about 18 hours.

Finally, a recent new opportunity that happened in 2011 but is an impressive example of cooperation between different governmental entities is the installation of Kent County Sheriff’s Department’s Mounted Division, which was offered a home on property in Rockford and Plainfield Township.

The Mounted Division, which had been homeless for years, with no central location for the law enforcement equines, was offered permanent use of an undeveloped park on Kroes Rd., near Rockford High School. Unrelated to Plainfield Parks and Recreation, it will still be a future recreation and observation opportunity, as Kent County plans to allow therapeutic horseback riding at the facility, an overlook area for the public to view training and riding, and make the facility available for horse-related competitions, which could well draw more visitors from across the state.

“There is a lot of growing and new opportunities happening in the township right now,” Short said. “It is the result of years of work and it is exciting to see it all coming together now.”

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