State board supports Kent parkland purchase
Natural Resources Trust Fund recommends grant of $810,000 to help buy 170 acres.
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board is recommending the Michigan Legislature fund 69 recreation development projects and land acquisitions in 2015, one of which is the purchase of 170 acres in Caledonia Township by Kent County for addition to an undeveloped park.
The state board has endorsed Kent County’s application filed in April for an $810,000 grant toward the purchase of four parcels from the Robert Welton estate property at the confluence of the Coldwater and Thornapple rivers. The county’s 91 acres there are undeveloped, although it is known officially as Two Rivers Park and does permit public access.
Kent County Parks Director Roger Sabine said the proposed state grant requires a 30 percent match by the county. He said the total acquisition cost of the 170 acres is estimated to be $1,160,000, so the county’s share will be about $350,000, of which Kent County Parks already has about $200,000 in grants from the Wege, Cook and Kent County Parks foundations.
The Parks Department also has a land acquisition account that Sabine said will cover much of the remainder. He said the acquisition should not require any funding from tax revenues.
The four Welton parcels are “really a good mix of property, in terms of what’s there,” said Sabine. It includes farmland, former farmland, wooded uplands and wetlands.
Sabine said the four parcels will expand and diversify the recreational opportunities at the park, which currently includes more than three miles of river and backwater frontage but limited upland areas.
The expanded Two Rivers Park will someday include a public launch site on the Thornapple River for canoes and kayaks, where the Coldwater enters the larger river. The development will take place in phases as funds become available. Once the acquisition is completed, a full master plan for the park will be developed.
Sabine said the original property was acquired by the county in the early 2000s.
“We’ve been looking at this property we’re acquiring for years,” he said.
However, Kent County Parks does not yet have a formal purchase agreement with the land owners. “What we do have is some owners that are very interested in this becoming county parkland,” he said, adding, “We operate on good will.”
Kent County must now provide the Michigan DNR with two appraisals of the Welton property, supporting the county’s estimated cost of buying it. The DNR’s ultimate approval of the appraisals, and thus the estimated price, will be required for the deal to continue. Sabine said the next step would be reaching a purchase agreement with the landowners.
The price would hopefully be within the amount that was approved by the DNR, Sabine said.
“So if we can’t reach a deal with a landowner, then basically, the acquisition doesn’t happen,” he said, adding, “I’ve never had that happen in 15 years” of buying land for Kent County Parks.
“I don’t submit a grant (application) that I don’t think I’m going to be able to do a deal on,” he said.
Revenue for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund comes from royalties that drilling companies pay the state for extracting oil and gas from state lands. Rights to the known oil and gas formations underground are sold at auction by the state a couple of times each year.
Sabine said the goal of Kent County Parks is to ultimately have about 7,500 acres of parklands. If the Two Rivers property is acquired, that would leave the county about 650 acres from that goal.
He said surveys of county residents have shown Kent County has a high percentage of households that use the county parks. In the late 1990s, county officials realized there were not a lot of county parks in the southeast corner of the county. It also was apparent that Caledonia and Gaines townships are among the two fastest-growing townships in Kent County, so the land acquisition plans targeted that region.
With the increasing population pressure, any rural lands for sale in those areas “weren’t going to stay farms. They are going to turn into housing,” said Sabine.