TRAVERSE CITY — Garfield Township will contribute up to $8,000 to develop a master plan for the city-owned Hickory Hills Ski Area that falls within township boundaries.
A majority of Garfield Township board members voiced support to fund 25 percent of the study’s cost because they consider the park a community asset and would like to see it remain open and add improved recreational opportunities for their residents. The study is expected to cost $32,000 and will look at developing the park into a four-season attraction while improving the financial sustainability of the ski hill.
Garfield was the last of four entities to agree to chip in for the study.
“That’s an asset to Garfield Township in the winter when our parks aren’t maintained,” said township Trustee Bob Featherstone, who called the $8,000 request a “pretty cheap investment.”
But township Treasurer Jeane Blood and Alisa Kroupa, chairwoman of the township’s parks and recreation commission, both spoke against funding the study.
“It’s a city asset and the city should be taking care of their asset,” Blood said. “Our funds should go to our parks.”
Kroupa said the next step will be to ask the township to help fund park operations. She said Garfield parks already have more needs than available funds.
But other township officials said the city park is used by township residents and the site has the potential to address eight of 12 recreational needs identified in a survey of township residents.
Hickory Hills spent the last few years under a cloud of closure because it costs city taxpayers on average about $100,000 annually to operate. The park abuts Hickory Meadows that is owned by a combined city and township recreational authority. City officials approached the recreational authority about taking over Hickory Hills, but that idea was shelved.
“The rec authority in its present state is not going to be taking it over,” said township trustee and recreation authority member Molly Agostinelli.
The joint recreational authority bowed out of formal participation in meetings between representatives from the city, Garfield Township, the Grand Traverse Area Ski Club and the support group Preserve Hickory Hills. The meetings produced a master plan recommendation and all four entities agreed to fund it and form a committee to oversee it.
Michael “Mac” McClelland, representing Preserve Hickory, said the plan would identify long-term improvements and make the park eligible for Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants. It also would examine park management, long-term financial sustainability, and identify some unique recreational opportunities not available in the region.
But McClelland cautioned against expectations that a study would create a financially self-sufficient park.
“No park pays for itself,” McClelland said. “Very little government does pays for itself.”