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Parks and wrecks


Another front-pager tackling some issues in the realm of parks and recreation. Doing backflips off a swing-set is a sport, right?

Rusted out chain-link swings at Kekoose Park in Hillsdale.

Rusted out chain-link swings at Kekoose Park in Hillsdale.

The city of Hillsdale and Hillsdale Township are currently collaborating on a  five-year  joint recreation plan that they hope to have completed by the end of the year.

The plan will create eligibility for funding for future development of parks and recreational facilities within the community and set short-term and long-term goals for renovations and upgrades.

City manager Mike Mitchell said the plan is essential to making residents feel like there is plenty to enjoy right in their own backyard.

“Recreation is a major tool to use to retain people to the area, as well as draw people to the area. A lot of times it’s jobs or schools that determine where someone lives, but people also want to know what it’s like to live there,” he said. “The purpose is to not only get an inventory, but to also see what opportunities we can build for the future to offer a variety of recreational options.”

Mitchell said the planning process started almost three months ago, when the city approached Cambria and Hillsdale townships about joining forces on the project.
Cambria declined the offer, but Hillsdale  accepted the partnership and Mitchell said he is pleased to have them on board.

“We’ve talked a lot about how you do you define Hillsdale. Is it the city boundaries, the school district, or by address?” he said. “You always hear people just saying ‘well I’m from Hillsdale’ and we thought this would be a great opportunity to work with the township and utilize their proximity and some of their resources.”

Township Supervisor Bill Vincent was unavailable for comment, but Deb Sikorski, the city’s planning and zoning administrator, said the township has been active in the information gathering process from day one.

The city Planning Commission will oversee the entire process and the city and township are currently compiling data through surveys.

Waterworks Park by Baw Beese Lake in Hillsdale.

Waterworks Park by Baw Beese Lake in Hillsdale.

Sikorski said there are five distinct groups on which information is being gathered: the general public via surveys, a government focus group that has already met to discus the plan, a survey of 5-8-year-olds done through local schools, a survey of 9-16-year-olds done through local schools and a survey of the senior citizens that is being conducted in the publication Golden Leaves.

Sikorski said community planning projects such as this one require the citizens to be the backbone for the best results.

“It is based on public input, that’s where we’re at right now and that’s the most important part of it,” she said. “We have the challenge of trying to provide adequate services with very little funding. We need not only money, but people who will step up in leadership roles and some volunteerism from the community.”

The city and township have declared Aug. 15 as the deadline for gathering data, before they will spend the upcoming months working with the Region 2 Planning Commission to hammer out an in-depth plan to help them navigate the future.

Sikorski said the goals of the plan have to be financially feasible to be eligible for funding and Mitchell said the plan is much more involved than just adding flowers and play structures all over the place.

“We have some great locations, but the parks themselves are kind of tired and old. I’ve had people tell me that their grandkids are playing on the same swing-set or slide that they did as kids,” he said.

And as much as youngsters love playground equipment, Mitchell emphasized that not every recreational facility needs to accommodate that age group.

“Part of recreation is making sure you offer different things to different groups. We have had a tendency in the past to try and make every place all inclusive, but you can have a park that doesn’t have a playground and another that has loads of playground equipment — it’s OK to do that,” he said.

Mitchell also wants to use the joint recreation plan as a way to explore “non-athletic” or play structure related visions that can be implemented rather soon.

He said the city and township would like to offer classes on things from the realm of quilting to scrap-booking to coin collecting.

“We haven’t focused on such things in the past but there are a lot of people with a lot of different interests around here, so we want to accommodate as many as possible.”

In a more traditional sense, there have been rumblings and informal discussions about more playing fields for sports such as baseball, softball, soccer and football the past few years, according to Hillsdale Recreation Department Director Michelle Loren.

Mitchell said more complexes, including the possibility of a skate park,  are certainly options to discuss at this point, but nothing is set in stone.

“We’re looking at how we schedule field usage because it’s something we probably could have had a lot closer eye on in the past. Fields need some down time to recover and there are a lot of different teams who use our facilities,” he said. “We may need some more fields in the future, but maybe we could also look into higher grades of turf for our fields and more effective watering systems.”

Mitchell and Sikorski both said a forum for public comment and discussion would be organized sometime after Aug. 15 and residents would be informed about it.

The Village of Jonesville and Fayette Township completed their own 5-year joint recreation plan on Jan. 12, 2009 and Village Manager Adam Smith shared his thoughts on what was most important as that plan took shape.

“”It is always important to have the public, residents and business owners alike, involved in the process as it is their community,” he said in an e-mail. “It is a lengthy process, as you can see by our timeline. Plan accordingly, solicit public participation and take the time to develop a quality product that can truly benefit the community.”

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About rjwalters

I am what you think I am — a journalist. Actually when I was hired at my current job, which by the way is Sports Editor of the Hillsdale Daily News in Hillsdale, Mich., I applied for a position titled "Wordsmith", so at my best I'll call myself a writer attempting to be a wordsmith extraordinaire.

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