May 15, 2013 - Representatives from Oakland County Parks and Recreation (OCPR) began making the rounds in Oxford last week with their presentation regarding a proposed concept to turn the majority of a 1,200-acre gravel mining operation into a multi-use adventure park.
"Oakland County Parks and Recreation cannot go it alone on any sort of venture like this. We need to work with others," said County Parks Planning Supervisor Jon Noyes as he addressed the Oxford Township Board on May 8.
"We (are proposing) a very comprehensive process of reaching out to the community. That's why we're here today – just to begin the dialogue. We look (forward to) a whole series of additional meetings (with) you and other groups, so we can get that feedback, host workshops and then actually (conduct tests regarding) some of the concerns that folks have."
Noyes' presentation, which was also made to the township planning commission May 9 and village council May 14, introduced local officials to the concept of possibly transforming 860 acres of the Koenig Sand & Gravel property into a public park.
This park could provide opportunities for off-road vehicle (ORV) riding, mountain biking, equestrian pursuits, fishing, archery deer hunting, scuba diving and training, water recreation and watercraft, nature trails and wildlife viewing, zip-line experiences and aerial tours.
This same presentation will be made again at the Oxford Downtown Development Authority's Monday, May 20 meeting at 6 p.m. and the Oxford Board of Education's Wednesday, June 19 meeting at 6:30 p.m.
Noyes presented a slide (shown on Page 18) depicting where the aforementioned activities could possibly take place on the Koenig site.
"The best way to mitigate the potential impact of off-road vehicles is to kind of do like an onion-ring approach where the off-road vehicles are at the core . . . but then you want to surround that with buffers that can accommodate other recreational uses," he explained.
He noted the buffer depicted in the concept plan surrounding the ORV area is more than 1,000 feet wide.
Noyes added a caveat that this is "not a concept of what we intend to build (and) not a concept of what we intend to acquire, but a concept necessary to promote a dialogue."
What's currently being proposed is the acquisition of 860 acres of the Koenig land by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) 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.
If purchased, the 860 acres could be leased by OCPR "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.
"Even if an acquisition grant is awarded, the MDNR will not acquire the property for the adventure recreation park unless an appropriate lease arrangement can be worked out with (county parks)," Noyes wrote in an e-mail to this reporter.
Noyes pointed out that even though the Koenig site is what's being considered at this point because it was identified as having a potential willing seller, the county is not "wedded" to this particular property for this proposed park.
"We're not proposing negotiations with a landowner," he said. "We're not proposing moving forward with a particular concept.
"What is most important for us is that we evaluate essentially how these recreational opportunities can fit into the community in a way (that) is most positive (and) of benefit to the community – economically, quality of life, etc."
Noyes explained that the grant process "takes so long," that basically, the OCPR had "to provide something for (the state) to begin to consider."
He noted that the proposed park could end up being smaller than 860 acres, but that was the number used in the grant application because "it's very hard to add (acreage), but it's very easy to subtract."
"Eight-hundred sixty acres of the site was identified as potentially scoring really well for that grant acquisition, but it could be any fraction of that amount," Noyes told officials.
Or it could be on a different site altogether.
"It is our understanding that even the location can change to some degree if a more appropriate location is found or if (after the grant is awarded), the acquisition offer is not accepted by the owner," Noyes wrote in e-mail to this reporter.
Although the proposed park would be designed to accommodate a variety of recreational uses and needs, Noyes' presentation primarily focused on the ORV riding experience because that aspect "tends to create the most concern and interest."
ORVs include motorcycles, jeeps, all-terrain vehicles, pickup trucks and dune buggies, but not snowmobiles. "There's a number of different vehicles that kind of fall into that category," Noyes said.
When it comes to ORV riding, there's no shortage of interest in Oakland County. Noyes pointed out that a Facebook page titled "We Want Oxford Motorsports Park" was created by a private citizen and it's already garnered 995 "likes."
"Apparently, within three hours of its creation, there (were) over 280-some likes," he said. "We had never even heard of it . . . It has no relation to us."
Currently, there more than 11,000 licensed ORVs in this county representing more than 7,000 households, according to Noyes, and yet, there are no legal riding experiences here accessible to the general public.
"We constantly have this demand that's out there," Noyes said.
Noyes told officials the county and its communities are missing an economic opportunity. "On average, those households will take two trips a year, two ORV trips a year," he said. "They will spend on average $500 annually on these destination experiences . . . That's $3.5 million, which is leaving Oakland County annually."
Noyes noted that 65 percent of that money is spent in the destination community where they are riding ORVs.
"Recreation is a significant economic driver in the state and one that is becoming increasingly recognized for its value in that regard," said OCPR Executive Officer Dan Stencil.
More than 19,000 ORV owners travel I-75 annually to get to a place in Michigan where they can ride, according to Noyes. This includes people from Oakland County and other places in southeast Michigan as well as out-of-state visitors from Ohio and Indiana.
The closest place for people to ride ORVs is in Genesee County at a place called the Mounds, a 370-acre county-operated ORV park located in Mt. Morris.
"Even though it's relatively small in size, it's the fourth most visited ORV site in the state," Noyes said.
Township Trustee Melvin (Buck) Cryderman asked if ORV use was the main reason this park concept was created.
"If the motorsports went away, would the whole thing go away?" he asked.
"If the motorsports went away, this project would probably not score well for grant opportunities and the state would not be interested in the acquisition," Noyes responded.
"We really cannot create parks that either only serve the community or only serve outside residents. It really has to be a balance," Noyes added.
Noyes told officials that "participation" from local public and private entities and individuals is going to be the key to exploring, discussing and developing this multi-use adventure park concept. "There's no way for us to say this enough," he said.
"Any sort of a proposal for an adventure, recreation, destination park is only going to be successful if there's a way for this to be a win, win, win. A win for the local community. A win for the user groups. A win for the residents. A win for the state. A win for the landowner."
"If the community is dead-set against this, you're just going to pack up and leave, right?" asked township Supervisor Bill Dunn.
"That's correct," Noyes replied.
"I want everyone to know they're not here to jam anything down our throats," Dunn said. "It's simply to give you the information on what they're trying to accomplish."
Noyes explained the county is hoping to lease a portion of the Koenig site for testing purposes, so it can be determined how various recreational activities, such as ORV use, could potentially impact the area in terms of noise levels, dust, etc.
Stencil noted that a gravel/sand mining operation "kind of lends itself" for ORV use "because the landscape is already disturbed and so it creates opportunities for that type of recreation."
Cryderman inquired as to how the Koenig site would be accessed by the public should it become a park.
"Our vision would be trying to come up with an access point off of Ray Rd. if this site was the one that we selected," said Stencil, who noted that's "preferred" at this point because the "oblique angle" at the intersection of M-24 and Burdick St. makes it difficult for vehicles pulling trailers to access Koenig's southern border along Lakeville Rd.
Noyes mentioned that he owes a "sincere debt of gratitude" to Koenig's owners, Peter Fredericks and his brother Norm Fredericks, who died May 6 (see story on Page 2).
"When you start using words like off-road vehicles, that's usually where the conversation stops, not starts," he explained. "Too often folks are never willing to even begin the dialogue for fear of negative repercussions.
"It is not easy for us to find a site – a large contiguous landholding – with an owner who is not willing to just say 'yes' to anything, but an owner who's willing to engage in dialogue."
Koenig's owners have been willing to discuss the option of potentially selling a portion of their property at some point in the future. As a result, they've taken some heat for it.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Fredericks cooperation has been very much to his peril because he's criticized by folks who see this as a sign that his company is going out of business and that's anything but the case."
It was noted that should this park concept become a reality someday, mining operations on the remainder of the Koenig site could continue.
"There may even be an opportunity for the entire site to continue to be mined for some period of time," Noyes added.
No agreements have been made or signed between Koenig's owners and either the state or county. Legally nothing can be agreed to or negotiated at this point in the trust fund grant application process.
"Nobody has committed to anything at this point. We're just starting the dialogue" Noyes said.
Dunn noted that "if this thing starts to move forward, in order for me to get on-board . . . the people are going to have to be with it."
"I'm also going to expect a site for a (future) fire hall on the very eastern portion of that property," he said.
The supervisor said the idea is this station could serve both the Oxford and Addison fire departments. He also suggested land be set aside for "soccer fields that are needed" and a possible "community center."
"You can expect (that) we're going to be asking for some stuff," Dunn said.
Once OCPR representatives are done making their presentations to the local governing bodies, Noyes said there will be opportunities for public input and cooperation.
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.