It used to be that Traverse City was the place where studies, reports and artists’ sketches went to die.
But today we have the new and improved Clinch Park, a monument in stone, concrete, wood and water to the collective vision of the Traverse City community for the city bayfront.
In 2004 the city launched the Your Bay, Your Say study and public input process, and the result was a long wish list of changes the public wanted to see on the bay and at Clinch Park in particular.
The new Clinch Park was officially opened last week in time for the 2013 Cherry Festival, and while opinions varied, it boasted most of the changes Your Bay participants said they wanted.
There’s a new bathhouse and concession stand, a large splash pad area for kids with lots of water attractions, the River Kayak Shack, where park-goers will be able to rent kayaks, canoes, tubes and stand-up paddleboards, and a revamped pedestrian tunnel under Grandview Parkway that will serve as a new front door to the park.
Not everybody is enamored with every part of the park.
The bathhouse and concession stand in particular — with its concrete block-and-wood design, has come for a lot of criticism. And others have bemoaned the loss of some older trees at the site.
But the openness of the area and a large terrace with large stone seats that slopes to the beach have gotten positive reviews, as has the new boat launch on the east end of the park.
This is a far cry from the decades when the park was home to a mediocre zoo, a few picnic tables and a dark and dingy pedestrian tunnel. The beach at Clinch was just fine, but the boat launch was small and awkward. The public bathrooms were awful.
Upgrades at the Open Space and the city marina had left Clinch behind.
Now it’s a great place for families to enjoy the beach, the splash pads and picnic areas, for fishermen to get onto West Bay, and for beachgoers to use clean, modern restrooms.
The aim of Your Bay, Your Say was to let residents decide what they did and didn’t want at Clinch. The favored designs left out the zoo and the mini train that had circled the park for years. And that’s what we’ve gotten.
The process was about as close as we come to direct democracy, and it worked.