MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights City Council has hired a contractor to install a new playscape at Wildwood Park, something that has been in the works for two years. A state grant is helping to pay for part of the project, which will have accessibility features for children with disabilities.
In addition, the council has approved funding to enhance the network of trails at the Red Oaks Nature Center at Suarez Friendship Woods. The project’s full cost will be split with Oakland County, which operates the park in a lease deal with the city.
Madison Heights officials see both projects as improving the city’s overall quality of life by making the parks more accessible to patrons.
“Crucial to all our work has been to make the park system, with all of its equipment, look fresh and inviting as a place to visit,” said Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett. “A park with old, dilapidated and out-of-date playgrounds and picnic areas just doesn’t help to regenerate interest in our parks system, or speak well for the city as a place to live in and visit. I think the residents will be very pleased with the results of our efforts.”
A playground for all
Wildwood Park is located on the south side of Greig Avenue, just east of John R Road and south of 11 Mile Road, between Delton and Osmun streets. The existing playground was installed in the early-to-mid ’90s and is well past its service life, city officials said.
The improvements at Wildwood will include a barrier-free playscape, new ground features, two swing sets, a barrier-free funnel ball game, two universally accessible picnic tables, four benches and a barrier-free pathway connecting the parking lot to the playground. The park will also feature a family-style portable toilet.
In March 2017, the Madison Heights City Council approved an application for a $75,000 matching grant through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to help replace the playground at Wildwood. For the city’s matching contribution of $75,000, the council approved nearly $48,000 from the capital improvement fund in May 2017, with the difference made up with city labor that will work on the park as an in-kind contribution. The overall project will cost nearly $129,500.
The city awarded the work to the lowest qualified bidder, Michigan Recreational Construction, based in Brighton. Two other sealed bids were received by the June 10 deadline. The council made its decision at its meeting June 24.
Another park that may receive improvements is Edison Park, located on Hampden Street between 11 Mile Road and Gardenia Avenue, one block east of Interstate 75, next to the former Edison Elementary School, now home to the KEYS Grace Academy charter school.
The council approved an application for an $87,000 grant through the DNR in March. The city set aside $50,000 in the last fiscal year’s budget. This would have to carry over into the spring of 2020, which is the earliest the grant would be awarded and the new playscape implemented.
The plan for Edison Park is to also install play structures in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as swing sets accessible to wheelchair users.
City officials said that accommodations for special needs children will be kept in mind as standard features for the updated parks system going forward.
“Of particular interest to myself and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has been to ensure youngsters with special needs are fully accommodated,” Corbett said. “Swings with safety restraints and accessibility features for children in wheelchairs ensure that everyone has a fun day at the park.”
A walk in the woods
For the trail enhancements at the Red Oaks Nature Center, the council approved funding for the project June 24 at a cost not to exceed $27,500. This is the city’s share of the overall $60,000 project cost that was approved by Oakland County Parks and Recreation June 5.
The nature center is located at 30300 Hales St. in Suarez Friendship Woods, south of 13 Mile Road and west of Dequindre Road, across the street from the Red Oaks Waterpark.
As part of the project, the north loop of the nature center’s trail system, known as Habitat Trail, will be resurfaced, and a pedestrian connection will be made between Habitat Trail and Hales Street.
The route for the new connector trail to Hales Street is very close to the fence line, so city officials do not anticipate that any trees will need to be removed during installation.
The county has selected the contractor, Bush Brothers Asphalt Paving. The project is the latest improvement that the county has made since assuming management of the park in 2012, when it first signed a 25-year lease deal with Madison Heights. The city remains the owner of the land.
It was an arrangement that effectively saved the park at a time when the city was operating it on a skeleton crew of volunteers, as a cost-saving measure during the Great Recession.
Suarez Friendship Woods was originally Simonds Woods — nearly 38 acres owned by Lamphere Public Schools. In 1983, the city of Madison Heights acquired the property with the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The nature center itself was built in 1995, partially funded by the Protecting Michigan’s Future Recreation Bond awarded the year before.
Today, there are 1.3 miles of paved trails running throughout the park. The woods there include old growth trees, and a variety of migratory birds and other wildlife make appearances throughout the year.
Melissa Marsh, the city manager of Madison Heights, said that while grants help, funding is still tight for quality-of-life improvements such as those at the parks.
A proposal for a general charter millage increase will be on the ballot Nov. 5, asking residents to approve additional funding for quality-of-life initiatives and public safety.
If approved, the measure would cost the average household in the city of Madison Heights — with a taxable value of $38,020 — an additional $130 per year.
“It’s no surprise that the biggest challenge facing the city is still finding the money to improve quality-of-life services, including parks, for residents of Madison Heights,” Marsh said. “We’re looking for all opportunities to create community spaces and enhance park amenities going forward to fit our daily lives, while balancing these needs with the demands on public safety.”
In addition to the millage, “We’re also seeking alternative funding sources and will continue to do so after the millage (is voted upon),” she said, noting that grants, crowdfunding and sweat equity from volunteers will all benefit the park system. “As a nature and park user and lover, I have very ambitious goals that together we can achieve.”