Rotary Club looks to create park along trail

Dr. Joe Tunac (left), president of the Rotary Club of Oxford,  and Bryan Cloutier, the incoming club president, stand  on the vacant village land they wish to transform into a public park. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Dr. Joe Tunac (left), president of the Rotary Club of Oxford, and Bryan Cloutier, the incoming club president, stand on the vacant village land they wish to transform into a public park. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
It appears Oxford Village could be getting some additional park space thanks to the Rotary Club of Oxford.
Last week, the village council voted 5-0 to support the Rotary Club moving ahead with plans for the creation of two park areas adjacent to the Polly Ann Trail in the municipality’s northwest quadrant.
“If you think about it, in that quadrant of this community, there isn’t a park . . . This only seemed logical to us,” said Bryan Cloutier, the Rotary Club’s incoming president.
The proposed park areas, which would be treated as a single park, would be located on two pieces of vacant village-owned land just west of the paved parking lot for Merge Studio & Gallery at 33 Pleasant St. They abut the trail on both the north and south sides.
“I think that is a great location for it,” said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth, who has advocated creating a park in that area for many years.
“This is the exact location that I thought of (when seeing this item on the meeting agenda). It’s a wonderful location,” said Councilman Joe Frost.
“In concept, I think it’s phenomenal,” said Councilman Erik Dolan.
According to Cloutier, on the south side of the trail would be a “passive park,” containing landscaping and possibly a small gazebo or pavilion.
The north side would contain playground equipment for youth surrounded by a fence.
“Our goal is to make this park ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” Cloutier said. “And in order to do that, especially (when it comes to) children with autism, you want to have some type of a nice fencing around it, so that the children and the parents feel safe, and (the) children are not running off, especially considering you’re along the trail.”
The trail itself would physically link the two park areas. Users would have to cross it to go back and forth between them.
Cloutier said the Rotary Club’s goal is to pay for both the development and maintenance of the park.
“We anticipate that it’s going to (cost) tens of thousands of dollars to build a park and we’re prepared to take that task on,” he told council.
The club plans to do this by exploring grant opportunities and collecting contributions from individuals and businesses through its 501 (c) (3) foundation.
“Rotary has worked very hard in the last couple years to develop its foundation on a local level,” Cloutier noted.
The Rotary Club isn’t looking to purchase the land from the village or have the property given to it.
“It would still be municipal property,” Cloutier said. “I don’t think we plan on owning the property.”
“The objective is to sponsor and fund and maintain a park on that property,” he continued. “I don’t think that Rotary, when they build a community park, actually buys the land . . . in most communities.”
Village attorney Bob Davis said there are a number options and mechanisms that could be explored to allow Rotary to create a park on municipal land without owning it. Off the top of his head, he mentioned easements and licensing agreements as examples.
Dolan made it clear he wants to find a “suitable arrangement” that does not involve the village relinquishing ownership.
“I am not in favor of ever giving away taxpayers’ property,” he said. “I’m sure there are numerous arrangements that we could undertake that don’t require that.”
Village Manager Joseph Madore suggested the municipality, as the landowner, could apply for a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. If awarded, such a grant could provide up to 75 percent of the funding for the park, allowing Rotary to raise the remainder.
“What our village manager is saying makes perfectly logical sense to me,” Cloutier said. “It is a concept that I actually would endorse, personally.”
“Obviously, we want to do whatever it takes to make the project successful and if that’s what makes the project successful and sustainable, then that’s what’s most important to Rotary because Rotary doesn’t . . . do things halfway,” he continued. “Rotary doesn’t get (involved in) projects and  . . . just drop the ball . . . and walk away. It has to be something that is sustainable and something that is going to be here for generations to come.”
It was noted during the meeting that both the Polly Ann Trail Management Council (PATMC) and Trail Manager Linda Moran support Rotary’s park concept.
Because the trail is owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), its approval will be required as well.
PATMC Chair Mike McDonald indicated “there shouldn’t be a problem” with developing this property abutting the trail “as long as (it) is used for recreational purposes.”
“I can’t speak for the DNR, but I don’t foresee that’s going to be a big problem,” he said.
Cloutier added that Ron Davis, director of the Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Department, “endorses the concept” and has offered to connect Rotary with people in the park-building business to “make sure that we do this the right way.”
“We appreciate his support as well,” Cloutier said.
Frost suggested naming the park after village resident Joe Bullen “in honor of his service” to the community over 40 years, which included stints on the village council, beautification commission, planning commission and zoning board of appeals.