Who wants to ‘Take the River Back’?
‘Take the River Back’
Guest Writer: Henry Morgenstein
A few years ago, on a beautiful warm sunny afternoon my wife & I biked to downtown Traverse City. She wanted what she, a Brit, thought was the most wonderful ice cream in America — and it is here, in Traverse City. All of you know the ice cream store I am referring to: it sits in the middle of one of the two streets of our downtown, and along its side is a lovely long narrow passageway that leads to the parking lots behind the stores.
We wondered where we should go to eat the ice cream and she suggested we go to the Boardman River which is only about 100 feet down the alley. We walked our bikes there & then sat on the brick embankment of the wooden bridge that crosses the Boardman, the bridge that leads to the large parking lot, more specifically, the lot that houses our Saturday & Wednesday Farmer’s Market.
By chance we chose a wonderful spot to sit. We were on a narrow grassy area overlooking the free-flowing Boardman. We watched several ducks, a few were paddling furiously: the current was quite strong that day. My wife remarked on how we were surrounded by lush vegetation, uncared-for, yet flourishing in a very picturesque manner.
If a gardener had been assigned the task of beautifying this spot, he could not have done a better job.
And it was preternaturally quiet. In the past, I’ve gone to sit in the sand at the edge of our bay, and the experience was highly unpleasant: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Thousands of cars whiz by. It is not peaceful. It is not pleasant.
Where we were sitting was peaceful, quiet, picturesque — and full of parked cars.
And then it struck me! For years & years & years there have been discussions about the possibility of creating a pleasant pedestrian experience alongside our beautiful Boardman River, the river that snakes through our downtown. Everybody used to say to me, “Have you ever been to the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas?”
They knew what was beautiful, what was memorable.
But such talk about creating a river walk similar to the one in San Antonio was always squashed. We can’t, they said. It’s too expensive, they said and besides, there is so little parking downtown. We need that space for parking for store owners & their employees.
We now have enough parking downtown — in fact, we have a great many unused spaces in our newly built multi-story parking ramp; capacity has not been reached. There is now a BATA Public Transportation Hub in our downtown; employees can be encouraged to use that.
The time is now; the opportunity is available now.
Just visualize it with me — in the area behind the stores on Front Street, for two blocks, from Cass Street to Park Street. Many tables are on the pavement, and there are small pushcarts laden with fruits & flowers. Venders will want to be there to sell food, to peddle their wares. Tables will magically appear, tables very similar to the tables that magically appeared in the newly renovated Marina downtown.
People are sitting & snacking at tables that overlook the free-flowing, crystal-clear, lush, green-bottomed, Boardman River. You almost cannot hear the massive number of cars whizzing by on Grandview Parkway. You are not aware of the people on Front Street.
This is tranquility & beauty, the true scene of a small resort town: people outside, eating at tables, strolling by, looking at pushcarts full of inexpensive, regional goods. You walk a few feet further and you are on a wooden walkway that meanders, in peace & quiet, still further along this River that exists in the heart of our town.
If you wanted to, you could cross the busy-with-cars parkway via an underground tunnel at Cass street. You could then go swimming. If you need to buy anything you can walk fifty feet and you are in the heart of Traverse City’s shopping district.
Why can’t we do this? It wouldn’t cost much. We do not need meters and parked cars in what is prime real estate property. Prime property.
Downtown — with a view of the Bay. Overlooking the meandering, lovely, Boardman River.
We give this spot to cars? Are we crazy?
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