On Wednesday night, the City of Saline held a joint meeting of the Planning Commission, the Parks Commission, the Environmental Commission and City Council. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss development plans for the city’s newest park, Salt Springs Park.
Planners from Beckett and Raeder, Inc. have been studying the area and have put together a preliminary plan. Two representatives of the firm, Caitlin Jackson and Kris Enlow, reviewed the plan and asked for input on future refinements.
Salt Springs Park has come into existence largely through the advocacy of Jim Peters. He has continued to study the history of the area, to participate in an archeological survey of the park and to generally promote the park’s development. Naturally, he was present at the meeting.
Jackson highlighted the special features of the park, for example, it is adjacent to the Saline River; the area has a rich history; the one remaining salt spring is a distinctive feature and it has interesting flora and fauna due to the wetland environment.
Except for some steep flood control banks along the east edge of the park, it is mostly wetland and floodplain. This characteristic has blocked development there, keeping it in a more natural state, but it has also presented some challenges to park design.
Anything done in the area must be approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Additional fill and permanent structures are limited. Fortunately, approvals that are granted by MDEQ are good for five years, which will allow the development to happen in stages.
One long range plan for the city has been to provide connectivity of various public areas by a trail system. This park is, as Jackson said, “essentially the crux of this pathways system.”
Salt Springs Park could eventually connect to Curtiss Park, Wilderness Park, Leslee Niethammer Saline River Preserve, and possibly Peoples Park. Without it, connecting these areas might not be possible.
The draft plan calls for a parking area near the entrance off of Monroe Street. It is the same entrance that is used to access to Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Just in from the parking area there would be a river overlook. Further in along a trail system there would be a “foyer area” and more overlooks. The foyer would be a gathering area for groups or classes, perhaps like an amphitheater.
“In the spirit of universal design, it’s good to have a sense of what the park is about pretty close to the entryway,” said Jackson describing the first overlook. “So if you don’t have super mobility and you don’t want to go for a mile hike through the woods, you still be able to park here; enjoy the views of the river; enjoy some of the interpretive opportunities.”
The network of trails would include a stabilized pathway that follows a sewer line passing underground through the park. This would permit work crews to access the line if repairs are ever needed and would perhaps have been necessary to build even if there were no park.
The costs of the proposed improvements are not certain. Beckett and Raeder estimates the cost for the parking lot at $150,000, trails at $50,000 and interpretive signs at $10,000.
After Jackson introduced the plan, the people in attendance divided themselves into four groups to discuss it. They were asked to list the most positive elements of the plan, things that might have been overlooked and those aspects that they felt were most important.
Many animated conversations were occurring around the room. After sufficient time, Jackson called the group back together to compare notes.
Some things that people suggested had been overlooked were: porta potties, receptacles for waste or recycling, bags to collect pet waste, a canoe landing on the river, a maintenance plan, security measures and an emergency call box.
The groups came up with ten things that they rated most important. These were listed on flipchart paper and those in attendance voted on their importance by attaching stickers.
The top five vote getters were: Park connectivity, preserving natural features, educational opportunities, historical interpretation and river access.
The representatives will take the community input back with them and use it to revise their draft plan.