Grand Traverse Bay: Big draw. Big money. Big changes ahead.

REGION – There is something about the water's edge that pulls people to it, yet it isn't always easy to get there or to find a bathroom. These challenges are driving some area municipalities to make better connections with where land meets the bay. We highlight the efforts in the works to make coastlines more accessible, attractive and interactive.

Downtown Traverse City:

The Bayfront

The preliminary designs are done – transforming a two-mile stretch along the most urban section of West Grand Traverse Bay into a significantly livelier and more appealing waterfront.

Based on public sentiment from the "Your Bay, Your Say" project a few years ago and most recently an idea-gathering event held in March, local engineering firm URS turned those broad concepts into engineering plans. Now is the time for feedback.

"Generally good response," says city planner Russ Soyring of the meetings held this spring with neighborhood associations, civic groups and local governmental bodies to get input and further tweak the designs. "People seem to be supportive…especially with some of the features on the old zoo property." Among the proposed activities at the Clinch Park centerpiece are a water play area and outdoor equipment rentals.

The preliminary engineering plans can be viewed at ci.traverse-city.mi.us and comments should be emailed to BayfrontDesign@traversecitymi.gov. On June 21, the final design and cost estimates of the proposed plan will be delivered to the City Commission. Various government bodies would need to approve a final plan and, if funding materializes from state, federal and private foundation grants, work on the multi-million project could commence a year from now.

Elmwood Township: Greilickville Harbor Park

Last fall, Elmwood Township launched a $900,000-plus project for upgrades to its park area to increase utilization of its public waterfront. Officials hope it will be open in early July in time for viewing fireworks and the Blue Angels. All work is slated to be complete by the end of July.

The project was an important step in the overall improvement of the M-22 corridor through Greilickville and turns a park with dated facilities into a first-class area that is well connected and offers amenities, explains supervisor Jack Kelly.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Kellogg Foundation provided nearly $540,000 of the project's cost, and the township contributed an additional $236,000 from its marina fund. Other funding came from Traverse City Light & Power and Rotary Charities.

Project highlights: Universal access for people with disabilities, bathroom facilities, improved parking, a rain garden for treatment of storm water runoff, new picnic pavilions, park lighting, landscaping and a waterfront promenade that connects by bridge to the marina. A plan for funding new playground equipment and another bathroom facility is in the works.

Next up? The marina. A committee, guided by landscape architect Klaus Heinert of Gosling Czubak, is currently working to update the marina master plan to go after more Natural Resources Trust Fund monies this fall.

Acme:

Shoreline Preservation Initiative

The magic number was $112,000. That's what Acme Township had left to raise just days before the June 1 deadline to leverage a $3 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to launch the first phase of its shoreline preservation plan.

The opportunity to open up Acme's waterfront on East Bay and create a place for the community to enjoy the shoreline resulted in a fundraising campaign led by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy after the grant award for 75 percent of the $4 million project.

The funding buys four acres with 540 feet of frontage on East Bay, adjacent to the existing Bayside Park. The three resort properties on the site – The Shoreside Inn, Knollwood and Willow Beach – will be demolished using a "green deconstruction" method (a few of the cottages are being relocated) and the area will be replaced with shoreline fishing and picnic and swim areas by next summer. Eventual plans for the entire mile-long stretch south of the M-72/US-31 intersection include a boat launch, volleyball and tennis courts and a connector to the TART Trail.

Elk Rapids: Dam Beach

Proposed marina/shoreline improvements in Elk Rapids caught a lot of attention when the Harbor Commission floated a proposal for a new 140-space parking lot on a natural area between the marina and shoreline known as Dam Beach. Other improvements included an additional boat ramp, picnic area and a bathroom facility.

The proposal drew the ire of many in the community and was withdrawn from consideration before it even reached the public hearing stage, explains Dan Reszka, village president. Now, the village is soliciting public input on a revised marina improvement plan that includes a paved parking area, a permanent bathroom facility and universal access to the beach area.

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