Sterling Heights approves ‘wish list’ parks master plan

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 11, 2022

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The year 2022 has just begun, but Sterling Heights already has its eye on the future of the city’s parks and recreation amenities.

At its Jan. 4 meeting, the Sterling Heights City Council unanimously adopted a new Parks, Recreation, and Nonmotorized Master Plan that will cover a wish list of ideas and items for the next five years.

During his presentation, Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said his department puts together a master plan every five years, and this new one focuses on 2022-26. In order to make the master plan, the city started preparations over 15 months ago, Langlois said. 

This new master plan follows the completion of the Recreating Recreation initiative that voters narrowly approved in 2016, which renovated park amenities and built new destinations like the skate park, the splash pad, a dog park, the community center and the Dodge Park Farmers Market Pavilion.

“While we undoubtedly transformed our community over the past five years, I am again eager to move our city forward in the realm of recreation using this snapshot of our department’s standing and a number of new goals to achieve,” he said.

Adam Young, a senior project manager at the consulting firm Wade Trim, which worked on the master plan, said the last parks master plan brought about many of the successful projects that developed through Recreating Recreation. 

“This is really following the success of the Recreating Recreation program that was launched in 2016,” he said. “We want to, again, continue that momentum forward.” 

Young said the five-year action plan is a guide and decision-making document that’s “not set in stone,” does not commit the city to any projects and is an “intentionally ambitious” laundry list. He added that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources requires municipalities to put these master plans together in order to qualify for certain state grants. 

 

The survey and action program
In creating the report, the city reportedly took into account its facilities, demographics, recreation trends and accessibility, among other things. Last year, the city also administered a resident survey that had 920 respondents. Not every respondent answered every question.

According to the report, that survey found that about 84.3% of respondents rated the parks department’s offerings as excellent or good. For  recreational programs and facilities, 39.2% of respondents thought they were “somewhat more needed,” and 38.4% thought they were currently enough. 

However, 55.8% thought the number of parks were sufficient, while 26% thought somewhat more were needed. If another park were to be built, 30.7% wanted it to be in the southeast quadrant, followed by 29.1% for the northeast quadrant.

The top five activities that the survey respondents were interested in, going forward, are canoeing/kayaking, swimming, archery/shooting, fishing and cross country skiing. 

Among the most desired recreational facilities, indoor swimming pools were the most popular item at 64.7%. The city currently has a deal with Warren that lets residents have Warren community pool access at its resident rates, Langlois said, though he added that Warren has only reopened the pool after COVID-19 to annual or monthly pass holders.

Young said the five-year action program seeks to add park amenities such as picnic tables, benches, bike racks and new athletic courts. The plan also prioritizes nonmotorized improvements such as filling sidewalk gaps, fully establishing and enhancing the statewide Iron Belle Trail route through the city, creating shared-use trail extensions used by bicyclists and pedestrians, and upgrading signage and safety. 

In addition, the plan also looks at acquiring land for additional park property. For instance, the former Fillmore Elementary School site is listed as a possibly good spot for a neighborhood park, if acquired by the city.

 

The council reacts
When the City Council addressed the presentation, Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski was excited about the idea of getting grant money for future projects. 

“It’s not necessarily free money, but it is certainly an opportunity for us to get the best bang for our buck,” she said.

Councilman Michael Radtke called the report “excellent.” Among the things he discussed, he wanted a linking sidewalk to Baumgartner Park and a better way for nearby residents to access Moravian Park. He also said he wanted to see a community park in the 15 Mile Road and Van Dyke area, and expressed interest in repurposing the Fillmore Elementary School site for that purpose. 

Radtke also inquired about park land that the city owns by the Red Run Drain, near Moravian Drive and Schoenherr Road. In the master plan, Red Run Park is described as an “undeveloped open space area consisting of 15.2 acres of land.”

“Is it marked?” Radtke said. “I don’t even know if … people know that we have a park there. So if we could put, like, a sign in front of it or something to kind of inform the residents that this is actually their property and that they can use it, I think that would be fascinating.”

Councilwoman Maria Schmidt said nothing in the master plan is set in stone, but is more of a wish list. She said she has been getting phone calls and texts wanting clarification on whether the city has already acquired the Fillmore property. 

“Certainly it’s in our plan, but there is no agreement in order at this point in time,” Langlois said. “In fact, we would need to secure funding to even be able to do that, which is through grant funding, which would be one of our fundraising mechanisms. … We’d be two years away from that being the case.”

Langlois said the Fillmore site is a potential opportunity since the city doesn’t have a park in that area. He added that some green space property by 17 Mile Road — near Utica and Schoenherr roads — would be desirable for the city to acquire for conservation purposes.

Councilwoman Deanna Koski asked about the Sterling Relief Trail, a proposed nonmotorized path that could go east and west along the Sterling Relief Drain, between 15 Mile Road and Metropolitan Parkway. Langlois said it was included in the plan as a “potential opportunity,” and the report itself says “there is no intent by the City to pursue this project at this time.” 

Langlois also described a preferred option for the Iron Belle Trail connector route through the city. While the report says the Clinton River Trail system currently makes up part of the Iron Belle, Langlois said the city hopes to continue the Iron Belle route south of Dodge Park, which would connect to Warren. He said he would prefer that the route go through Baumgartner Park and then connect to Dodge Park Road via 15 Mile Road. 

Mayor Michael Taylor wanted to know whether plans exist for a disc golf course within a two- to five-year timeframe, adding that “we’ve been talking about this for over a decade.” 

Langlois said the plans unraveled over differences in opinion. He said the original plan used some space from Puffin Park to make it work, so he’d want the city to make improvements to Puffin Park before reassessing any nine-hole disc golf plans.

The parks master plan is expected to be submitted to the Michigan DNR by Feb. 1.

Find out more about Sterling Heights and its parks master plan by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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