April 24, 2013 - Residents who wish to learn more about a proposal to transform the majority of a 1,200-acre gravel mining operation in Oxford Township into a "multi-use adventure park" will have several opportunities to do so over the next month.
Representatives from the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission (OCPRC) are planning to address various government boards from the township, village and school district throughout May. (See below for the schedule of meetings.)
Their purpose is to introduce local officials to the concept of possibly turning 860 acres of the Koenig Sand & Gravel property into a public park that provides opportunities for off-road vehicles (ORV), mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, archery deer hunting, scuba diving and training, water recreation and watercraft, natural trails and wildlife viewing, and zip-line experiences.
"At none of these meetings are we going to present something for approval," said County Parks Planning Supervisor Jon Noyes. "It's really just to introduce them to what we're thinking we'd like to do and begin the call for dialogue.
"We need everybody's help, if this isgoing to work. If we're going to come up with something, it's got to work for everybody. This is really just step one."
What's being proposed is the acquisition of 860 acres of the Koenig land by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) using money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Koenig's property is bordered by N. Oxford Rd. to the west; Ray Rd. to the north; the Addison Township border to the east; and Lakeville Rd. to the south.
The estimated appraised value of the property that could be acquired is $7 million, according to the trust fund grant application submitted to the state. That's based on the current assessed value of $3.5 million.
If purchased, the 860 acres would then be leased to the OCPRC "for a period of not less than 50 years." During that time, the county agency would be solely responsible for the development, operation and maintenance of the multi-use park.
When asked why this concept is being presented to all the different Oxford boards, Noyes replied, "I'd really like this to be a model of how things should be done – where everybody rolls up their sleeves, puts all their cards on the table and then we figure out how to put together the best hand for the local community."
Given the potential impact of this type of project, he's hoping this plan of action will help address people's concerns and include them in the process.
"Whenever's there is a proposal to do something that's a little bit out of the box – particularly if it deals with off-road vehicles or equestrians or mountain biking or anything with the natural environment – there's going to be a lot of emotions," Noyes said. "There's going to be a lot of personal perspectives and interests involved."
In addition to the boards listed on Page 1, Noyes is also looking into presenting this park concept to the Polly Ann Trail Management Council, the Oxford Public Library Board of Trustees and the Oxford Chamber of Commerce.
Given all local government meetings are open to the public, Noyes encouraged citizens to attend, but he asked them to keep in mind that it's still very early in the process.
"We would love to have the public there," he said. "I just don't want them to come expecting that we're going to have all the answers because we don't. We don't even necessarily know what all the questions are going to be yet."
Noyes made it clear that public feedback will be solicited at some point, but these initial meetings with the local governing bodies aren't ideal for gathering citizen input.
"These types of meetings aren't really set up for public engagement," he said. "In terms of a substantive dialogue, where we actually can start really incorporating their feedback into the design or refining the scope (of the project), we really are looking for special separate meetings just to do that."
A public hearing regarding this proposal will have to be held in the coming months, but Noyes would also like to see some workshops conducted as well.
"I don't think you can necessarily get your best work done in the middle of a public hearing. I would actually like to (have) workshops where we actually invite people to come work with us."
If this park concept becomes a reality, Noyes said Peter Fredericks, one of the Koenig property's owners, intends to continuing mining operations on the remaining 340 acres.
"Because we're not going after the whole site, his business will still be able to operate in perpetuity," he said.
It should be noted that no agreements have been made or signed between the owners of the Koenig property and either the state or county.
"Nothing legally can be," Noyes said. "In order to put in an application for the trust fund, there have to be no agreements, period. The reason is because that essentially, taints the process. We're not allowed to negotiate (at this point in the process). The only thing we're allowed to do is identify a willing seller."
Noyes noted this is by no means a quick process. "Best case scenario, you might be looking at two years before you can actually have a negotiated agreement with a landowner," he said.
And just because an application for a trust fund grant gets submitted regarding the Koenig property, Noyes said, "There's nothing to say that we couldn't just identify a whole different site. You can modify a grant application afterwards."
When asked if they're exploring other potential sites for this park in Oxford Township, Noyes replied, "It's really just Koenig. Really that's the only one (where) we've actually had a discussion with the landowner."
However, he added that "basically, any large landholding is on our radar."
"It's up to us to try to figure out where you have a potential willing seller and which areas really work best in terms of (the) long-range planning that the community's already done like your master plan," he explained.
Although the proposed park would accommodate multiple recreational opportunities, the need for an area to ride ORVs played the largest role in selecting the Koenig site and justifying the need for this project.
In the grant application, it was noted that the DNR owns more than 29,000 acres of public recreation land in Oakland County.
However, much of this property isn't appropriate for ORV riding due to legal restrictions, environmentally sensitive areas and existing recreational uses that the public views as incompatible with ORV access.
Having legal ORV use opportunities that are easily accessible and in close proximity to population centers would be a way to help curtail the incidents of riders trespassing on private property and improperly using rural roads and right-of-ways because they have nowhere else to go, according to the grant application.
There are more than 11,000 ORV license-holders in Oakland County representing approximately 7,000 households, Noyes said.
The closest place for them to ride is in Genesee County at a place called the Mounds. It's a 370-acre county-run ORV park located in Mt. Morris.
Having an ORV park in Oakland County would help communities retain revenue that's currently being lost as people go elsewhere to enjoy this sport.
Surveys of ORV license-holders' spending habits revealed that up to 65 percent of a $500 trip is spent at local destinations on things such as gasoline, groceries, entertainment and parts for when their vehicles break down.
Multi-use adventure park presentation schedule
Oxford Township Board
Wednesday, May 8 at 7 p.m.
28 N. Washington St.
Oxford Township Planning Commission
Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m.
28 N. Washington St.
Oxford Village Council
Tuesday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m.
22 W. Burdick St.
Oxford Twp. Parks & Rec. Commission
Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m.
20 W. Burdick St.
Oxford Downtown Development Authority
Monday, May 20 at 6 p.m.
22 W. Burdick St.
Oxford Board of Education (tentative)
Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30 p.m.
10 N. Washington St.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.