Mill Park presents Clinton Township with conservation, recreation opportunities

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 11, 2019

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — An agreement for a parcel of land with limited access is on the verge of being finalized.

On May 28, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 7-0 to move ahead with an approximate $60,000 purchase — in addition to expenses for recording fees, transfer taxes and a title search — for Mill Park, a vacant piece of property that affronts the west side of Moravian Drive, across from George George Park.

The designated park is actually already owned by the township, which is about halfway through a 99-year lease. However, the only current access is south of the Moravian Road bridge and requires individuals to encroach a resident’s property.

Following discussions for park-related grant funding last year, in relation to George George and Woodrow Woody parks and the Clinton River Spillway area, township officials continued to discuss options related to Mill Park.

The process has been a couple of years in the making. It started when the residents living near Mill Park, Jay and Margaret Lifshay, contacted Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo and discussed selling the parcel.

Pizzo recalled looking at the landlocked property on a map and thinking, “This is perfect.”

Discussions were referred to then-township Planning Director Carlo Santia, but talks temporarily fizzled — at least until grant funding mechanisms were put in place for other park properties within the past year.

Other township officials, including Supervisor Bob Cannon, Clerk Kim Meltzer and Treasurer Paul Gieleghem, became part of the revisited discussion. Gieleghem recalled originally seeing the land a number of years ago, prior to even becoming a township official. It was in the back of his mind “for many, many years.”

“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is incredible.’ The reason why it’s exciting is because of the opportunities that it presents: creating a nature center, connecting trails and traversing through the river,” Gieleghem said.

The property offers the township a future outlook literally circling around the community. Pizzo envisioned a future landscape that includes a bridge connecting Metropolitan Parkway and Garfield Road to Canal Park, extending to George George Park, running through Groesbeck Highway all the way to Lake St. Clair Metro Park.

“That vision is there,” Pizzo said. “It’s just a matter of getting that done with the right leaders in the room.”

Pizzo believes that developing such properties will only improve home property values and quality of life, as well as encourage people to either move into the township or stay if they thought of relocating.

He said the current officials and department heads are “paying for the future.”

“I hear everybody saying, ‘We really appreciate all the connectivity you’ve done with sidewalks.’ We connected miles and miles in this township,” he said. “Not only do I think people will appreciate it, but we see it in our Master Plan. Residents are saying, ‘These are the things we want.’”

Jay Lifshay said the property was originally purchased with the intention to build a house next to two other nearby houses, but it ended up being a floodplain. He and his wife submitted design plans, but engineers couldn’t build. There wasn’t even a septic system.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” Lifshay said. “It’s woodsy and wild. There are 100, 150 nests back there. It’s quite a unique area.”

The area itself is unlike most in Macomb County. These are trees that are 100 to 120 feet high, Lifshay described, where you can routinely see 130 birds “squawking and talking.” Blue heron nests are commonplace. Snapping turtles even exist in the vicinity.

Lifshay said it’s ultimately a matter of environmental protection, helping those birds that hang around there due to the seclusion. Giving others the ability to experience the scenery is also vital.

“We’re delighted it will be public access,” he said. “At the same time, it will be good access for when they finally create a method of having the public being able to access it — which will take some work, because it’s definitely not the friendliest place back there.

“That’s the essence of it all. There’s no value to a piece of property that doesn’t have it so people can gain access, so they can be adjacent to a natural area like Mill Park — the whole environmental (aspect), the whole interest of it being a spot where people can walk back in an area.”

Gieleghem said the township’s increased shift toward conservation and quality of life — in addition to safe neighborhoods and quality education — is all part of one common denominator: defining an experience for families that call the community home.

“As we become an older community, we need to be think more about what makes this a great community,” Gieleghem said.