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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.

Jay P. Smith Walkway between pizza, ice cream and parking (photo: Gary L Howe)

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.

The River Walk in San Antonio, TX (photo: mcclouds' photostream)

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.

The 200-Block alley design proposed by the Downtown Development Authority is waiting for leadership & political will. (DDA)

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?

Parked cars have the best of views along the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City: a view of the river, our largest parkland & of course the bay. For what? At most $5 a day? (Photo: Gary L Howe)

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  1. April 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    There is currently an undertaking to beautify the river from the pond to the 100 block of downtown TC. Walkable areas, sitting spaces and river meanderings will improve the human aspect. Habitat will be improved for fisheries, water fowl and the general riparian ecosystem. It has been discussed to create the entire alleyway along the river to a walk/bike way with only motorize traffic allowed to delivery and emergency vehicles. I have been touting this for at least five years now and The Conservation District has fronted the beginnings of committee discussions with city officials, local environmental engineering company and interested citizens like moi. It may be some time off still but it is making progress.

    If you’d be interested I would like your help to create interest on the whitewater park project downtown. Can you contact me personally?

  2. henrymorge
    April 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    To Eric,

    I am very glad the project is underway. I wrote this column about the same time you began forwarding the idea — roughly five years ago (maybe four?). Us old people lose track of the exact time. I tried to get my piece published in the Record Eagle & The Northern Express. The RE said no (I am not an expert: they accept only “experts” in the field), and northern Express ignored it & when much later I tried again, they said something “was in the works.” Obviously your project was “in the works.” I am ready to help in any way I can — but I do live half of each year in Southampton, England. I will be back in Traverse City roughly May 27th, and I will be in TC until November 2nd. I am so glad the project is “in the works.” Again, anything you’d like me to do, I’d love to try to do.

    Sincerely, Henry

  3. Lee Maynard
    April 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Hi Henry, Thank you for writing this post- I couldn’t agree with you more. Giving the river downtown some TLC will help make TC a cool city! Let us know what we can do to get the sea of parked cars and high retaining wall out and a ‘place’ for people in.

  4. Matthew Ross
    April 29, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Henry, I wrote a comment weeks ago regarding “Taking back the river” I also mentioned that cars have the best part of the river as well. I was planning to write an article on the same subject and take pictures, but my new camera broke.

    I’m glad you feel the same, and did this. I know this has been talked about for years, but nothing ever seems to happen. I think your right. A lot could be done for little money, and a lot community help and support. Parking will be lost,but I think if done right that area would bring a lot of people downtown.

    I would be very interested in helping out with any project. If someone could post a number or e-mail, I think you would have a lot of people interested in supporting and helping with this idea.

    Projects tend to go very slow in TC. Eric said he has been working on this for 5 years! and I now know it will be 5-6 years before a roundabout goes in. We can do better TC.

  5. Jennifer
    April 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Henry, great post! Anyone interested in PARK(ing) along the river on May 28th? We can bring in chairs, tables, whatever, and enjoy the area presently used for cars. Details to follow if interest is there.

  6. chrisbzdok
    April 29, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Jan Chapman is a TC resident and member of the DDA. She’s a strong advocate for these downtown riverside alleys – she says “they’re not alleys, they’re the front door of downtown!

    You can find her and other DDA members’ info here: http://www.ci.traverse-city.mi.us/boards/ddaboard.pdf. Issues with the alleys include cost (if you’re going to spend $2 million of TIF money would you spend it along the bay or the river?) and cooperation from some of the property owners, but I bet she’d love to hear from a group who wanted to champion some kind of solution. City manager Ben Bifoss did the river walk in Manistee, so he’s been through it before – with success.

    And don’t give up on roundabouts inside of 5 years out. We need to push for at least one asap – hope to have some options to look at May 10. Keep an eye on http://www.planfortc.com for info.

  7. April 30, 2010 at 8:14 am

    I’m really liking this interaction between readers.

    I’m all in for the PARK(ing) on May 28. Anyone have some extra sod we can roll out? Ping Pong table? I can teach people how to play “Go“.

    As for the roundabouts, early poll numbers heavily favor the Roundie Solution and I’ve tried to get it out to as many different eyes as I can…everyone, send it to your grumpy uncle –> http://bit.ly/cXOhL1

  8. May 1, 2010 at 8:13 am

    That sounds like a lot of fun. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what Jan says. Some of the Grand Vision brainstorming talked about a linear park – would be great if TC could explore this.

  9. May 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Gary has created an unbelievable blog! People read it, react to it. I’ve gotten eight responses in less than 48 hours. This is terrific — and YES, I’ll be there for the Park(ing) if it is on. It’ll just be good to meet people, say hello. Long-long ago a radio DJ in New york city suggested his listeners wander down to the recently burnt out ruins of a big department store (Wannamakers). Just walk silently through the rubble. They were not to greet each other or anyone else — just silently walk through. It was meant to freak out “the powers that be.” It did.

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