Royalton Township sets 5-year recreation plan

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Royalton Township has put together a five-year community recreation plan that includes changes to existing parks and a potential new one near the St. Joseph River.

Trustees got a look at the plan during Monday’s board meeting, which laid out specific goals between 2017 and 2021. The plan was put together by Wightman & Associates with the help from the township’s parks committee, planning commission, board of trustees and administration.

Among the current parks and recreation areas that are maintained within Royalton Township are Bicentennial Park, the Tryon School Community Center and the wooded trails at the Bacon School Road Nature Trail.

Manager Steve Tilly said this is the township’s first recreation plan. The township decided to move forward with the list of goals and objectives because it would not have been able to apply for any grants without one.

“We looked at it several years ago and postponed it due to the lack of interest,” Tilly said. “But we’ve had more interest from people wanting places to walk. Plus, the current park has outdated equipment. So, we decided to put together a cohesive plan and list what we have available now.”

Bicentennial Park is 6 acres in size, located next to the Royalton Township Fire Department. The community center is used for events and other social gatherings. The nature trail encompasses more than 30 acres of undeveloped park land with access to the St. Joseph River.

Before establishing a recreation plan, the parks committee came up with assessments for the parks and nearly 200 residents were surveyed in July.

Residents surveyed showed an interest in improvements to existing park facilities and to expand the walking trail and bike paths.

Suggestions for Bicentennial Park were upgraded playground equipment, a walking track and a dog park.

Some of the goals established included connecting the park structure, improving existing facilities and signage, while increasing waterfront access to the St. Joseph River.

A new park?

Among the improvements and considerations for the township’s park system is a development plan for a 17-acre parcel on the St. Joseph River along M-139 – about four miles downstream from the nature trail.

The parcel is being considered for a new township park, which would be nearly three times the size of Bicentennial Park.

Tilly said the township has not acquired the land for the new park, but has been in contact with the Michigan Department of Transportation about donating the land.

“They have been very responsive to giving us the land,” Tilly said. “It’s at the Lansing level now, but it may take a couple years because there are some wetlands in there and MDOT wants the federal credits for the wetlands. They really don’t need or want the property, but they thought it was a good use for the property.”

With the exception of acquiring the M-139 land as a donation from MDOT for the new park, each improvement’s source of funding would come from either the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund or the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Tilly said the township has never applied with either entity before, but is aware of a few surrounding communities that have gotten grants. Royalton Township also has never received a Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant.

The Parks Department budget takes up about 3 to 5 percent of the general fund.

Goals and objectives

For the first year of the plan, the township listed four objectives.

They included upgrading pavilions, playground equipment and the community center at various parks while adding benches and a parking lot to the trail.

The estimated cost for these goals total more than $600,000.

Year two includes the additions of a dog park, fitness stations, basketball and volleyball courts at Bicentennial. The nature trail would introduce a scenic overlook and signage.

The cost for year two is about $400,000.

Year three of the plan involves finishing touches at Bicentennial with the addition of an all-purpose athletic field and a disc golf course. The fourth year would involve adding a parking lot, boat launch and fishing platform at the M-139 property – which would only be acquired through donated land.

The final year of the plan calls for water and sewer extensions at the proposed M-139 park, along with the addition of a pavilion/restroom and other nature trails. This phase is estimated to be about $730,000.

With nearly $2 million in proposed costs over the next five years, Tilly said not everything will be done on the list – at least not in the structured timeline.

The new park along M-139 might be just a wish list item at this point, as several residents who were surveyed stated they didn’t realize there were parks in Royalton.

“As we work through this plan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be done in five years. It’s a wish list,” Tilly said. “What doesn’t get accomplished in five years, we’ll probably work on updating it so we have a continual park plan going forward. We’re not just going to drop it and forget it. You have to keep evolving and upgrading.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 15, 2016)

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