By David Fleet
Atlas Twp.-On Tuesday afternoon about 40 individuals from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, the Genesee County Parks and Recreation along with local officials gathered at the Atlas County Park, 9139 Hegel Road for a tour of the new property.
The group were part of a tour of all Genesee County parks.
The townshp park, which opened April 29 features hiking trails, wetlands and the Atlas mill pond access on the 155-acre parcel on the north side of Hegel Road about 800 feet east of Gale Road.
Barry June, Genesee County Parks acting director and township trustee lead the group which arrived via bus and highlighted the features of the park.
“You can drive on your bike or walk on a pathway from the Village of Goodrich to the Atlas County Park then to the Village of Atlas,” said June. “The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund helped us do this—it’s a very popular trail. It’s very much appreciated by the folks in this area and the Grand Blanc area.”
The wooded property incorporates an abandoned Detroit Urban Railroad rail bed as well as a section of the Kearsley Creek. In addition, walking paths, scenic overlooks, a pavilion and parking area at the front along Hegel Road will be incorporated in the design of the park.
The GCP Rangers will police the property which will be open from 8 a.m.-dusk, seven days per week.
The park will also include benches and several trails through the interior of the property.
Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources also attended the park tour. Creagh reflected on the findings a 2012 Blue Ribbon Panel on state parks and outdoor recreation put together by Gov. Rick Snyder. A key element from the panel determined was the relationship between people and local parks.
“They don’t care who owned it they just wanted a park,” said Creagh, regarding the panel’s findings. “It changed our mindset to, ‘how do you partner more effectively with local and county because of that open space need?’ We also did the heat map, (or) about how far are you from public land? There are some holes in the state where that distance is too great. And how do you make sure people have that access? Because the next generation of conservationist will be a little bit different, they’ll be a little more diverse, they’ll have different interests. The big growing area right now is not just hunting and fishing anymore, it’s the paddle sports, it’s the mountain bikes how do you interact with the environment on a more routine bases?”
“So when you have a park like this and you have the Iron Belle Trail and you connect it—everything comes together,” he said.
Creagh emphasized that Michigan is also now more about using trails as safe corridors for kids going to schools.
“We are in a society of—we drive our kids to school drop them off then go pick them up,” he said. “But if you have a safe corridor like this one (in Atlas Township) that connected the neighborhoods a little bit more directly—it’s a perfect example of where kids can use the trail, experience nature, it can be a learning experience for them and at the same time a safe experience.”
The process for obtaining the township park included private, township, county and state cooperation.
Owned by the Poulos family the wooded parcel was purchased about 40 years ago as a speculative land investment and was for sale for many years; however, in 2015 the family approached the township about purchasing the land for recreational use.
Township officials contacted the GCPR to see if the they could possibly apply for a grant to purchase the property. In October 2015, the GCPR contacted the Six Rivers Land Conservancy to determine the possible use of the land that is a mix of wetlands, open space and woodland.
Following an assessment, on April 2016 the GCPR applied for the grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The NRTF was established exclusively for acquisition and development of public land, and funding comes from royalties on the sale and lease of state-owned mineral rights. When the NRTF was voted into the Michigan Constitution in 1984 it was to be used for conservation, resource protection, public outdoor recreation and to develop outdoor recreation facilities such as the Atlas Township property.
On Dec. 7, 2016 the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board convened at Lansing Community College to announce their decision on 27 applications seeking more than $31 million in requests for funding statewide. The grant for $540,200 sought by the GCPR to purchase the was approved by the board. In June, 2017 the Michigan House of Representatives OK’d the funding with the GCPR paying the balance an estimated $182,000.