Madison Heights Comes Together to Revitalize Gravel Park

daytrip_to_holly_top-generalmike-goetz-adMadison Heights Comes daytrip_vintage-farm-house_lampTogether to Revitalize Gravel Park

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 10, 2016)

Madison Heights, MI  – Families in Madison Heights no longer need to travel north of 13 to enjoy a city-owned park thanks to the efforts of volunteers in the community this weekend. While there are school-district owned parks, Gravel -which was basically grass – was the best the City had to offer in the neighborhood.

Gravel Park has been there for a couple of generations, but according to Mayor Brian Hartwell, has had more than its share of losses.

“Gravel, and more broadly, many city parks faced a perfect storm of bad luck. First, the trees at Gravel were wiped out when the Emerald Ash Borer ravaged the region’s tree canopy. The city did not replace the damaged trees. Over the years the only opportunity for residents to plant on public property was the city’s Memorial Tree program. A local hero planted several blumz01Memorial Trees at $300 per tree to fill the gaps, but mostly in vain considering the dozens of lost trees,” Mayor Hartwell said.

“Second, the recession forced the city to rightly prioritize public safety spending over parks and recreation. After years of shelved park improvements, millions of dollars of investment is needed to be caught up to make our parks usable.

“Third, Gravel had one of those awesome older playground sets. You know the type: big splintery poles holding up rickety wood platforms and hot-as-the-sun metal slides. And don’t forget those formed concrete, tooth-loosening climbing walls we called big pieces of cheese. Sadly, this equipment became too dangerous for even the most generous insurance adjusters and was removed from the park. The city did not replace the play equipment.

“Fourth, a former city manager thought the land, roughly one half acre, could be sold for profit to private developers for more housing, and the park’s future use was slated for single lynn_stange_01family home zoning.”  This possibility is still up in the air as officials determine if it would be legal for them to do so, if it would require a public vote, and if that is what the public and officials would want.

As discussions happened at the city level, residents put people power to work, with neighbor Vaughn Derderian helping coordinate the efforts.  “He noticed how the neighborhood has changed in the past year with many newly built homes attracting families with children. Parents are forced to cross 13 Mile Road–which doesn’t have safe pedestrian crosswalks on the weekend due to flashing traffic signals–if their children want to visit a usable park,” the Mayor said.

Derderian and Hartwell have been looking at the Patronicity program through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan Municipal League as a way to crowd-source the funding and quality for a matching grant.  This program has been used successfully in Royal Oak, Berkley and other communities, and was recently spotlighted at the MML convention.

daytrip_andys-placeThe residents are currently working on their grant proposal to the MEDC, and City Council must also vote on participating.  In the meantime, the neighbors started with a grass roots effort.  Well, more like a tree-roots effort.  About 40 people came to Gavel Park Saturday to put in about 20 trees.

The Madison Heights Men’s Club approached Lowe’s about making a donation, and Manager Rob Spudowski donated the store’s excess tree surplus.  The store donated silver maples, red maples and cherry trees. The silver maples could not be planted due to a ban on planting them.  Upon hearing about the silver maples not making the cut, Home Depot of Troy stepped up to donate their remaining red maples.

Just in case the land does get sold, volunteers worked with the Department of Public Service to plant the trees in areas where they could be save even if houses were built.

“On Sunday, 19 men’s club members brought their friends and families to Gravel to plant the royal_servicestrees. The commotion caught the attention of several neighbors who grabbed shovels to help. Probably around 40 volunteers total,” Mayor Hartwell said.  “The homeowner directly north of the park recalled how his children played at this park decades ago. He noted the activity in the area with all the new construction and new families bringing kids and energy back. The men’s club planted the trees and then wondered how to water them? Luckily a member of the club works for a landscaping company who brought its water truck to douse each root ball and fill the gator bags.”

The mayor said he hadn’t felt so good about community service in a while after being part of such a big effort.  The moment that got to his heart happened after all the digging and watering were done.

“On my walk home I heard one of the men’s club sons say, “Dad, I’m coming back in 20 years to see these trees.” His dad replied, “Son, now we have a reason to come back next week.”

Learn more about the Madison Heights Men’s Club at https://www.facebook.com/MadisonHeightsMensClub/.

Note: This story has been updated to include the distinction between city-owned and school district owned parks.

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