Clinton Township takes over Nicholson Nature Center

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published September 25, 2018

 A rededication ceremony took place Sept. 19 at the James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center in Clinton Township, located behind the Macomb County Public Works building.

A rededication ceremony took place Sept. 19 at the James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center in Clinton Township, located behind the Macomb County Public Works building.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Trails are available to see the sights, which include blue herons and other forest critters.

Trails are available to see the sights, which include blue herons and other forest critters.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Advertisement

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — There’s a secret hideout in Clinton Township that local and county officials hope will be discovered by residents near and far for the foreseeable future.

On Sept. 18, the James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center Floodplain Conservation Easement was rededicated to recognize a partnership between Clinton Township and Macomb County — a brand-new start for preservation, access and peace of mind.

It is the first county-owned property to contain a conservation easement.

The township entered into a shared maintenance and operations agreement with the county in May after being approached by Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller. Since the land was rarely utilized, the township saw an opening to take over the property, located at 21417 Dunham Road, behind the Macomb County Public Works Office.

In 2009, the Nicholson benefactors donated $150,000 to protect the sprawling 33-acre easement that contains numerous species of plants and trees, as well as an array of wildlife, such as whitetail deer, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, blue herons and other birds.

James Nicholson and his son, David, were on hand Sept. 18. James talked about how he moved to the end of Dunham Road, at the age of 11, in 1954.

“It was country,” James Nicholson said. “We swam in the river, and when the river froze, we ice skated on it. It’s a very, very great place to grow up. And my view has always been that great cities, great communities have great parks.”

David recalled walking up and down the Clinton River throughout his childhood.

“This was a place I came every Sunday to have Sunday dinner with my brothers, sisters, parents and grandma,” David said. “It’s a place where I learned to shoot a bow and arrow.”

Miller said that when she was first elected as public works commissioner, she wasn’t really aware of the land and the north branch of the river that runs through it.

She said she has seen critters, like foxes, from outside her office’s window. Staffers have seen bald eagles nesting. It’s not uncommon to see deer strut along the river.

“It is probably one of the most beautiful parks that we have in Macomb County, and yet it has been sort of a hidden secret here — sort of a wonderful jewel that needs people to even understand that it’s back here. … I think partnerships are always the way to go,” she said. “For those of us in public office, it’s for us to make sure the public is able to access properties that they own. I think most of us get into public service for the next generation.”

Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon was adamant in his attempt to take over jurisdiction of the park’s assets, calling it a “pacifier.”

Along with the conservation aspects, an on-site pavilion can be booked through the township for youth and charitable groups and the like. In a place where bathrooms were previously only open one day per year, upkeep and maintenance will vastly increase.

“We intend to continue to improve this site day by day,” Cannon said.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel told a story of how he wandered around the area one morning, checking emails on his iPad. Then, something caught his attention.

“No sooner than I put that iPad down, all the sudden, I turned and heard something, and there goes a blue heron flying by,” Hackel said. “And I’m thinking to myself, ‘My God, those signs aren’t fictitious.’”

Six Rivers Land Conservancy Executive Director Chris Bunch thanked the Nicholson family for their commitment and financial contribution, as well as the county for having the foresight to engage and bring in the township.

The property easement means the land will never be developed beyond its use as a nature center. He said there are two main pieces of the puzzle: making sure access is maintained, in the form of bathrooms, paths and scheduling pavilion-related events; and the stewardship of the ecological integrity of property, in the form of eliminating invasive species, cultivating native species and providing a place for science for children and adults.

“Obviously, it has a huge impact on the health of the Clinton River,” Bunch said. “Keeping this floodplain natural absorbs a lot of nutrients and slows down water flow, and does a lot of things that make sure we don’t pay a price in water quality.”

Advertisement