Leelanau News and Events

Suttons Bay Park Nears Completion; More On The Horizon

By Ross Boissoneau | July 7, 2023

It’s been a longer wait than anticipated, but work on Suttons Bay Township’s Herman Park is on the downslope. The project changed dramatically as community input and funding led to the establishment of a dog park and four new pickleball courts, extending the construction time considerably, and keeping the park closed longer than anticipated.

“The original contract was to be completed by mid-July,” says Bill Drozdalski, parks supervisor for Suttons Bay Township. Work was proceeding so well he thought the project might even be completed earlier. “But (we) added the dog park and pickleball courts, which are taking more time. We just finished a lot of excavation. The concrete people just put in sidewalks and curbs” last week, he says.

While the park already had four pickleball courts, he says the sport’s exploding popularity led to efforts to fund more courts while the township already had work in progress and firms engaged in the improvements onsite. “Pickleball is one of the biggest expanding sports,” says Drozdalski. The facts back him up: It has been the fastest-growing sport in America for the last three years, and there are 36.5 million pickleball players in the United States as of January 2023, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals.

While pickleball gets the headlines, the 126-acre Herman Park boasts a number of other amenities. It has a picnic area, an accessible trail, a kids’ fishing dock, two soccer fields, an 18-hole disc golf course, and four tennis courts. “Tennis has a large older contingent, a league with play a couple times a week,” says Drozdalski.

Now along comes pickleball, and like the USTA-approved tennis courts, the new pickleball courts are built to the specs approved by its national governing body, USA Pickleball.

The extra work was paid for by supporters: A group of pickleball lovers contributed $100,000 and is seeking grants as well, according to Drozdalski. The costs for the dog park were similarly paid for by donations totaling over $134,000.

The park remains closed until all the work is done. The timeline was extended once the original plan was amended, and Drozdalski is reluctant to specify a final completion date. “The safety of the public is the key, and the Township Board has the final decision on when to re-open,” he says.

He says the biggest task remaining is the paving. Once that is completed, there will still be additional work to finish before the park can be reopened, including restoration, irrigation for the dog park and fencing.

As the work continues, the township is beginning to look ahead to what’s next. The improvements to Herman Park are the culmination of the township’s 2019-2023 five-year plan, and it is now taking steps to begin its next five-year plan for the parks. Pete Ostrowski, who chairs the township’s Parks and Recreation Committee, says gathering public input will again be a key.

Previously the township produced a survey that was available online as well as hard copy available at the park and elsewhere. The township also held a public meeting to discuss the results and get additional input.

The survey focused on the development at Herman Park since it was used more than the other township parks. As noted in the previous five-year plan, given the park’s location – near downtown, the school, the Leelanau Trail and the town’s residential area – and its size and possibilities, it was logical it receive the bulk of the township’s attention. “We spent time on Herman Park. It’s an active recreational park. The others are more pocket parks,” Ostrowski says.

The results of the previous survey included, among other things, recommendations for restrooms, trails, and a dog park. One thing missing: pickleball, which underscores its suddenly burgeoning popularity. It wasn’t even listed among the top ten recommendations when the previous plan was codified in 2019.

As the township begins to look ahead, the focus will likely shift to its other parks, though Ostrowski says he thinks there is still a need for additional improvements at Herman Park. “One thing we don’t have is a good children’s play area,” he notes.

The one exception to the township’s other diminutive “pocket parks” is 45th Parallel Park. It is located approximately a mile north of the village on the west side of M-22. It consists of 45 undeveloped acres, which Drozdalski says makes it suitable for walking, hiking, or biking. He says it marked by a couple orange metal stakes which note the MDOT private easement to the property.

There’s no signage at this point. It’s likely it will receive some attention in the next five-year plan.
But that also depends on what the township residents see as the biggest priorities, per the survey results. Drozdalski says the township will take note of the input and prioritize accordingly, then again host a public meeting for discussion. Ultimately the township board will approve a final plan.


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