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Addison Township, Village of Leonard Welcome Rep. Slotkin for a Tour

Addison Township, Village of Leonard Welcome Rep. Slotkin for a Tour

(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 9, 2021)

Addison Township, MI – Leonard Village President Mike McDonald was happy to host Congressperson Elissa Slotkin and members of her staff for a tour of the community last week.

“I can’t remember a time when a Congressional Representative came to Leonard and took an interest in our village,” he said.  “Sometimes officials will come to the Strawberry Festival, usually before they’re elected, sometimes after.  But this is really nice.”

Slotkin said that coming from Holly, she knows how rural communities can feel ignored or overlooked.  “We need to make sure our rural communities are supported, and that your needs are met too,” she said.

Chatting over bagel bombs and coffee from Evergreens Coffee and Bake Shop in nearby Oxford, Slotkin heard from Village officials what challenges they face.  Leonard, which is within Addison Township, has a population of 403 people as of the 2010 Census.

“We’re not a community that can just write checks,” said Addison Township Supervisor Bruce Pearson who was also among the officials on the tour. When the Village was having a problem with parking near the Polly Ann Trail, they didn’t put out an RFP for a contractor or perform a study on the land or hire a design firm.  “We got gravel donated and Mike and I went in at night and added the new parking lot.  People think this stuff falls from the sky, but here it happens because we do it.”

“We don’t have a DPW, but I know everyone who owns a backhoe,” he added.

The Village Hall was being painted inside, but Rep. Slotkin and her team were able to take a peek at the historic building.  A block up and across Elmwood Street another historic building sits in clear need of attention.  The community has been raising money to restore the Leonard Mill.

According to LeonardMill.com, “The Leonard Grain Elevator and Beanery, known locally as the Leonard Mill, dates back to 1889 when the Village of Leonard was thriving with local farming activity. The Grain Elevator was constructed immediately adjacent to the PO & N Railway, which made shipping to larger cities possible. Local farmers used the railroad and Grain Elevator to process and transport produce, lumber, grain, and livestock on outbound trains. Northbound and southbound passenger trains also departed each morning and each evening. The passenger trains brought people to work in the village businesses, which were a ready market for goods and services.”

The Polly Ann Trail has replaced the railroad line, so those enjoying a stroll or a ride pass right by the historic site.  The trail has become a destination spot for many, and McDonald hopes that “with the Leonard Mill restoration, hopefully that will be a draw, and help us attract grants, and visitors.”

The trail grew even more popular over the past year as the pandemic had people seeking outdoor recreation, and not traveling as far.  “It’s seen a boom and it’s been keeping our stores going.  We see horses out here on the weekends… and when the state approved e-bikes on the trail it helped get seniors out there,” President McDonald said.

Slotkin said that across the country she’s seen a similar trend.  “A lot of people are doing the research and going to new places nearby,” she said.  “Communities with outdoor amenities are doing a lot better than those that don’t.”

While the trail has brought people together to enjoy the great outdoors, it’s also had behind-the-scenes coalescing effects.  “The Polly Ann Trail helps the five communities work together.  We have to work cooperatively. That doesn’t always happen in government, but with this we have something that connects us,” McDonald said.

Polly Ann Trail Manager Linda Moran was on hand to give Slotkin a look at the popular trail, including features donated by area businesses and scouting groups.  “Sometimes communities are resistant to trails, and it took a lot of work to get it approved.  But now it’s so popular.  I can’t imagine [this area] without it,” Moran said.

McDonald said the Village is working towards becoming a Trail Town USA, a program that helps communities maximize their connection with the trail and the economic value that can come from it.

But even with good place-making in place, rural communities like the village simply lack the population and tax base for municipal spending.  Slotkin encouraged officials to be on the lookout for grant and funding opportunities as Federal funds get released to the states and counties for COVID-relief projects.

Addison Township too faces funding challenges.  Slotkin visited Addison Township Fire Station 1 to meet with Chief Jerry Morawski.  There the impacts of COVID were more than just economic.

On May 6 longtime firefighter Chuck Johnson died of the coronavirus.  A retired firefighter also died of the disease.  “They’re out here in all kinds of situations risking their lives to keep people safe, and this was a danger.  This was a line of duty death,” he said.

Morawski talked about the need for technology funding as well as physical needs.  “This station was built in 2004, paid for by our taxpayers,” he said.  “We’re really proud of the station and what the public has given us.”  But even with a new station, the need for technology is constant. “Right now the issue is with radios, and needing to upgrade our system,” he said.  They’re currently looking for funding for more radios, a cost of $90,000.

The department takes between 600-700 calls a year, plus provides Mutual Aid backup to neighboring Oxford and Oakland Township, as well as Macomb County and Lapeer County.

He showed Slotkin the wall where giant checks are hung to show how much he’s been able to bring in through grants and donations, but there is always a need.

Addison Township Library is also in fundraising mode.  There over 100 people wrote letters of support for federal funding for building a new library.  Currently the library is located in a strip mall on Rochester Road, and their lease is expiring.  Land across the street was donated, and they are currently raising funds, with www.LetsBuildALibrary.com providing more information and ways to donate.

“This shows the power of smaller communities coming together,” Slotkin said to the group that had gathered in front of the library for her visit.

Joe King had been Secretary of the Board prior to 2016, and his wife Kara now serves.  Kara is also the artist behind murals of bookshelves on the outside of the building, and the decorating of doors on the inside.  “When I moved here in 2003 the library was just a small building by the Township Hall, and the owner of Manny’s Liquor let us rent this space for a very low lease, for ten years.  We moved in in 2011. He had done well in the community and wanted to give back, so this was a great home for a while.  But this building needs work and it’s time for something even better,” King said.

Slotkin’s office helps review applications for funding but does not make the final decision.  Like many things in government, the process is slow, and they may not know for months if they are approved for funding.  So the online fundraising continues.

In addition to the governmental buildings, Slotkin took a tour on Lakeville Lake, to see the natural beauty of the area. And she and her team had lunch at The Celtic Knot.  Spending the day allowed the Congressperson to really connect with the people she met, and gain an appreciation for the area.

For more local news visit the Oakland County Times Addison Township Page.

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How do you run a municipality with only 403 residents? What are the issues facing rural fire departments? What’s up with that old mill? Where will Addison Twp. Public Library go? How awesome is the Polly Ann Trail? These questions and more were part of this tour by Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Addison Township and Village of Leonard: http://oaklandcounty115.com/2021/06/09/addison-township-village-of-leonard-welcome-rep-slotkin-for-a-tour/
 
If you know anyone in Addison Twp please share this with them. I’m not sure that we have much reach there, yet.

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