BY MICHAEL WALTON
— TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation officials are eyeing possible changes at Twin Lakes Park, including a swimming ban, as the anniversary of a tragic Memorial Day weekend drowning approaches.
Parks board member Christine Maxbauer, who’s also a county commissioner, wants to prohibit swimming at the county-owned park. Maxbauer said the lake is “extremely dangerous,” citing three drownings in North Twin Lake within the last four years.
Her proposal comes roughly 10 months after Owen Williamson, 17, drowned at the park off North Long Lake Road, and about six weeks after Williamson’s mother Ann Parker spoke about the lake during a joint meeting of the county board and the parks board.
Parker referred to a handful of steps county officials and officials from other organizations took to improve water safety following Williamson’s death. She asked county officials to do more to notify the public about the dangers of North Twin Lake.
“Let’s take responsibility and help the county avoid more deaths,” Parker said during the meeting. “Our whole community wants this.”
Maxbauer said several characteristics of North Twin Lake make it particularity dangerous, including extremely cold water and steep, sudden changes in depth.
“You can literally take one step and be in two feet over your head,” she said.
Maxbauer said she thought “most people” would respect a posted no-swimming rule, even though the park has experienced problems with guests ignoring rules that forbid drinking and hunting on the public property.
But parks board President Alisha Kroupa said she doesn’t want to make a no-swimming rule that cannot be enforced.
Kroupa wants to explore a plan by which county officials would lease the park, its lodge and its dormitory to the Ryan Patrick Kennedy House, a nonprofit group that hopes to create a healing center for area military veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Kroupa said such an arrangement would save the county from spending roughly $100,000 per year in expenses to maintain a park that relatively few residents use, and would ensure the park is used for a good cause after being the scene of three deaths.
“It’ll make it a place of healing after so much tragedy,” Kroupa said. “It’s hard to imagine, but three moms don’t have their sons anymore.”
Kroupa acknowledged leasing the park to a nonprofit amounts to shutting out the public. She said she’s interested to hear how residents would react, but first county officials need to work out whether a lease agreement is possible.
Grand Traverse County received Twin Lakes Park in several pieces as gifts from Parm Gilbert, a former judge, Traverse city attorney and prosecuting attorney, in the 1940s and the Lautner family in the 1960s, said Christopher Forsyth, the county’s deputy civil counsel.
Kroupa said the parks commission will ask county attorneys to analyze the terms of Twin Lakes Park deeds and report back on what the county can and cannot do with the land.
“If the ruling comes back that we simply can’t do it, then we can’t do it,” Kroupa said.