By Matt Schepeler
When a government agency makes a beautiful park, they hope as many people use it as possible. However, in the case of the Columbia Township park on Hyde Road, problems have arisen from overuse, and it appears most of the people are coming from outside the area.
Park neighbor Judi Kelly came to the township meeting June 19 to discuss some of the problems, and she gave the board an earful.
“You guys have done a tremendous job making it a great area for families,” she said, noting that it allows people who might not otherwise have access to enjoy the lake.
“However . . . I feel there has not been enough done to address the problems that are going on there,” she said.
“Those of us who live by the park are not able to ride easily up and down Hyde Road, we can’t get up and down our own street, the parking is horrendous, there is no way to limit the capacity there, and many of the problems that happen there are because of the capacity.”
Kelly said that during the weekend of June 10-12, an especially hot weekend, there was “an incredible number of people at that park.”
Kelly owns Doyle’s Market, formerly Roberts Grocery, which is located across the street from the park, and said that she often hears from residents complaining of the park.
“What breaks my heart is that Columbia Township families, with children and grandchildren, cannot get to the park because they cannot park anywhere, or they will not take their families to the park because of what they observe from the street. They don’t want their kids involved with whatever is going on there.
“It looks like an inner-city park with no control. I think it is very unfortunate that you have spent the money to make it a nice place, but you don’t take the responsibility to keep it a family friendly environment.”
“People who are paying the taxes to Columbia Township would like to be able to use the park, they would like to be able to send their kids down there on their bikes, but they refuse to do that because of what goes on at the park.”
Kelly said she is aware that there has been an increase in police presence and more tickets have been written, but she wants to see the issue addressed as the township continues to work on ordinances.
“I am asking that you include some way to monitor the capacity of that park,” she said.
Kelly said she moved to Clarklake from the Detroit metro area “because I love the lake and the openness and the friendliness of it. My friends come to visit me. My yard backs up to that park, and they say “I thought you moved from Detroit. What’s going on here in your own back yard?”
“It is embarrassing, and you should be ashamed of what it has become,” said Kelly.
During board discussions, Township Supervisor Bob Elrod asked the board for suggestions on how to address the ongoing issues with the popular park.
“Are we at a point where we should limit it to just township residents by some means,” he asked. “Or are we at the point where we should form a parks commission?
Trustee Phillip Reynolds said “We have got to get a better handle on this, more than we can from a board meeting once a month.” He pointed out that they did put up new signs recently.
Police Chief David Elwell said that the department has issued 34 tickets at the park since June 1. Of those, three were for open intoxicants, one for careless driving and the remainder for parking violations.
Elwell said not a single ticket was to a township resident. Most of them are from around Jackson County.
“To be clear, we are not selectively picking who to write tickets to,” said Elwell,” making the point that the park is being heavily utilized by people outside the community.
He said that one of the problems is that word had gotten out that people could come to the park and party. “I have made it clear to my officers that I want them there writing open alcohol tickets. My hope is that these people who come to our park from outside the area will [let it be known] that this is not a place to come and drink anymore.
“There are issues there, we do stay on it, but the fact that we have written 34 tickets in 19 days tells you that we are busy there.”
Treasurer John Calhoun pointed out that the deed to the property from the Clark Lake Board of Education to Columbia Township specifically states that the park is to be used “primarily for the residents of Columbia Township.”
“It does not say exclusively for residents of Columbia Township,” said Calhoun. “I think if we block it off to any non-township person, we would be violating somebody’s civil rights somewhere down the road.”
Calhoun agreed with Reynolds that a board that meets once a month can’t maintain a good handle on the issue. He suggested a seven-person board be formed. “It is time for the residents to make the decisions,” said Calhoun.
Elwell countered that making the parks nicer would only exacerbate the problems. He suggested that letting the police department focus on enforcement will alleviate some of the issues.
Reynolds said he would like to monitor the issue “a little closer” and said every board member needs to go down there and see what is going on.”
No official action was taken in the matter.