Dowagiac on track to get grant to connect trails

Don Campbell / HP staff Dowagiac City Hall is pictured July 21, 2018.

DOWAGIAC — A proposal to acquire land to link existing trails in Dowagiac looks to be on schedule to get a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant in 2019.

Trust fund officials announced their funding recommendations earlier this month. Actual funding approval will come next spring.

Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson said city officials were excited to get word about the grant recommendation. The state is recommending the full funding the city’s request of $56,200, he said, which would be matched with nearly $20,000 in local funds.

Anderson emphasized that the grant is for acquisition of land and not the actual construction of a trail. The plan is to purchase a right-of-way strip of land from the Dowagiac Elks Club for the trail. The right-of-way easement is along the south side of Dowagiac Creek between Cass Avenue and Riverside Drive.

“For us, this is the next logical extension of the work we’re doing at the Cass Avenue Park,” he said. “We got that grant last year and should start work there in the spring.”

He said the right-of-way strip of land will be 40 to 50 feet wide and three-fourths of a mile long along the creek. The trail that will be created on the strip at a later date will be 12 feet wide.

Anderson said there won’t be enough time to get all the appraisal and title work done connected with acquiring the right-of-way to submit a grant application in early 2019 for the actual trail construction. He expects that application to be made in early 2020.

The city will complete the project in phases and eventually create a trail system connecting the new Cass Avenue Park to Riverside Drive via the Elks Club land and then to existing trails in the city cemetery. From the cemetery, the trail system would eventually connect up to both Rudolphi Woods and the Southwestern Michigan College campus.

“Trails are high priority items at the state right now and this proposal connects with other trails and parks,” Anderson said.

A second Dowagiac grant application to upgrade a city park failed to be recommended for funding for the third time. The city has applied for funding to make improvements to Rudy Park on the city’s east side without success. The city had asked for a $190,000 state grant to help pay for the $254,000 project.

The four-acre Rudy Park is located off of M-62. It contains a Richard Hunt sculpture and overlooks the mill pond and Dowagiac Creek. Anderson has described the park as the city’s “drive by park.”

The grant application asked for funding to pay for the construction of a paved parking lot, an observation deck, stairs to a fishing platform overlooking the pond, landscaping, lighting, sidewalk and a bench. It also called for a new entrance drive to be constructed across from Colby Street.

Anderson said the city may take a step back and look at other ways to fund improvements there.

“We’ve gotten close but maybe it’s time to take a step back,” he said. “We may re-evaluate the project and see if we can break it up into smaller parts and do it ourselves.”

Anderson said one idea would improve the park’s accessibility by putting in some parking spaces, while another would be to create visual outlooks there.