TRAVERSE CITY — Carter Schmidt stood alone on a concrete pad as former Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken threw the switch that drenched the Traverse City boy.
Carter, 9, became the first child to officially enjoy the city’s newest attraction at renovated Clinch Park during its grand opening Tuesday morning. He wasn’t alone long; more than three dozen children soon flocked to the splash pad, mister, rain arch and playground.
“It was pretty cold, but fun,” Carter said.
The water feature includes an educational component to demonstrate the natural cycle of water. It was named after Milliken -- the state’s longest-serving governor and Traverse City native son -- to honor his advancement of environmental legislation that protects Michigan’s water resources.
“I think it’s just wonderful and it didn’t take long for the young children to jump in the pool and start dancing,” Milliken said. “People are going to enjoy this ... the water and the sounds that come from it and the sounds of the children playing.”
Milliken thanked the organizations that funded the $2.9 million project, including a collaborative of 18 area foundations.
“You have made wonderful contributions and we will remain forever grateful to you,” Milliken said.
Ross Biederman represented the contributing Biederman Foundation at the event.
“This will be used for generations,” he said. “I look at this as an amenity for the local people ... not just an attraction for tourists.”
Jerry Sprague of Traverse City regularly visited the park to observe construction and likes what he sees. He told his grandkids they were going to the zoo park this morning, but said they didn’t seem to miss the zoo as they played in the water feature.
“This is one of the better things Traverse City has come up with,” Sprague said.
Peggy Sheidler of Suttons Bay said her grandchildren hadn’t stopped playing in the water since it was turned on almost an hour earlier.
The water isn’t heated, though city Planner Russ Soyring said he hopes to add a boiler and some solar heating when he can find money to do so.
“The kids love it, and the way they are moving they don’t seem to mind the cold water,” Sheidler said.
Clinch Park renovations are the first of more than $20 million in planned changes to the city’s two-mile-long bayfront. Mayor Michael Estes said he’s confident the entire package will some day come to fruition.
“No one thought we could do this,” Estes said.
The next phase is already underway and includes a fishing pier that extends 200 feet into the bay at the mouth of the Boardman River.