TRAVERSE CITY — The newly renovated $2.9 million Clinch Park sits atop a field of junk.
Construction crews who excavated the park surface came upon a layer of debris more than four feet thick. Buried materials ranged from old Coca Cola bottles to logs, sawdust, scrap metal, and pieces of old cars.
City planner Russ Soyring said the slab of land that projects into the bay and makes up Clinch Park and the Open Space is not a natural land mass. He suspects the items were dumped there as fill material in an effort to reach deeper water for lumber mills and other industries located on the site.
“I think they crated up and dumped here anything they could find,” Soyring said. “It was being built up over the years.”
The collection ranges from old wagon wheels to Model T cars and a layer of sawdust about 13 feet thick, likely from an old saw mill on the site.
Soyring said the shore naturally should run east and west, an all-beach area instead of a spit that juts north into the bay. Designers wanted to turn the Clinch Park beach north to the boat ramp, but discovered that natural currents would devour the shoreline.
“Mother Nature doesn’t want this here, that’s why we have the limestone break wall here and sheet piling at the open space,” Soyring said. “She’d tear it down if she could.”
Missy Luick, the city’s planning and engineering assistant, said many Traverse City transplants don’t realize the Open Space hasn’t always been so open.
To remind visitors of that fact, the main sidewalk leading from the Cass Street tunnel is inlaid with bricks that list significant events at the city’s waterfront, starting with the Hannah Lay lumber mill in 1852, the railroad depot 20 years later, and Morgan Cold Storage in 1895. The 20th century welcomed a canning plant and the first Cherry Festival in 1928.
The city didn’t create a destination public space on its waterfront until the Clinch Park Zoo opened in 1931. Former city Mayor Con Foster led efforts to create the park on the waterfront after the lumber mill closed. The museum that opened three years later carries his name. But it would take another 48 years before the city would make another major addition, in 1979, when the Open Space was created.
The last brick on the sidewalk recognizes the latest change to the waterfront. It reads “Clinch Park Pavilion — 2013.”