Proposed modification to the Township Park on Hyde Road has caught the attention of Clark Lake residents and others in Columbia Township.  The goal of this article is to provide some context.  It recaps how some of the problems developed, and the current thinking of the Township on how to correct them.  This was derived through interviews with Columbia Township Supervisor Barry Marsh and Police Chief Jay Niles.

Since established, the Township Park offered access to Clark Lake to those who wanted it.  Police Chief Jay Niles notes “problems were minimal.”  Over a period of years, the park was improved and became more popular.  Along with it came some unintended consequences. The park became a destination for those not from here – Ypsilanti, Lansing, Detroit, for example.  Overcrowding became chronic. Other visitors and the lake community were exposed to fights, noise, substance violations, and other rude, illegal, or abusive behavior.  Residents were threatened with physical violence.  As these difficulties multiplied, one Township board member quipped “it looks like we made the park too nice.”

When the situation became particularly troublesome two summers ago, the Township closed the park at 5 pm.  What triggered this?   Around 4 pm a caravan of several vehicles would arrive and create havoc. Closing early ended the caravans, but prevented others from enjoying the park past 5 pm. After a cooling off period, closing hours were extended to 9 pm. The Township Police budgeted more hours to patrolling the park.  Over the last two summers, infractions became less egregious, but the number of arrests remained about the same from one summer to the next.

The Township sought the help of professional planners  to recommend physical changes that could ameliorate issues, starting with overcrowding.  Moving parking to the road and limiting it to 12 angled spaces would keep attendance at a significantly safer level.  Installing a self-pay parking option could attract a more respectful cliental, be more conducive to good order, and help offset some costs.  Columbia Township Supervisor Barry Marsh comments “the Township is researching the possibility of providing credits or offsets for parking by residents if this system were to be implemented.”  Walkers or cyclists could still enter the park via a pedestrian gate without paying.

If the new parking arrangement becomes reality, will some visitors try to park elsewhere, such as in front of the homes of residents or in such a way that it interferes with traffic?  Police Chief Jay Niles says “there might be some growing pains, but be assured our department will enforce parking violations.”

The Chief points out the current situation on Hyde Road.  “Heading north on the west side of Hyde, no parking is posted from the entrance of the park all the way to the North Lake intersection.  Heading north on the east side of Hyde, no parking is posted from near the pedestrian entrance of the park to the North Lake Road intersection.”  Chief Niles says “any vehicle creating a traffic hazard on other roads, such as Vining, will be ticketed.  A traffic hazard exists if any portion of a vehicle is parked in the travel portion of the road.   This does not affect the launching of boats.”

Are tickets enough to discourage illegal parking? “In the past we found a solution.  If someone ignores a ticket, then we have the vehicle towed.  When those in the park see a car being towed, it motivates respect for the law.”

Columbia Township property owners pay entirely for operations through their tax bill, not through state or federal funding.  The extensive (and costly) OHM recommendations go well beyond parking.   It’s no wonder some taxpayers have reacted negatively.

The Township has applied for a Recreation Passport grant of $150,000 that could be used to reorient parking.  The required $37,500 local match could be in the form of in-kind donations, whether monetary or donated labor and materials.

Supervisor Barry Marsh clarified that the Township is focused on changes or improvements that will make the park a compatible neighbor to Clark Lake as a whole. “We have to be mindful of the fact that the park is an asset to the community, but it MUST not be a nuisance to the neighborhood where it is located.”  He further stated, that “while the OHM advisors have proposed a wide list of options to consider, many of them would not likely be appropriate for our specific park.”

Supervisor Marsh continues, “the Columbia Charter Township Board of Trustees had previously appropriated funds for capital improvements, and we would be negligent if we did not attempt to get some of our tax dollars back via this grant opportunity.   Addressing the park safety concerns/overcrowding should also reduce the demand placed on our local taxpayer funded agencies allowing them to be of service to the entire Township as they should be.”

The Passport Grant does not commit the Township to all OHM recommendations, or to any specific one.  It’s evident plans are still under discussion.  So, for now, this is a developing story.