Ramsay continues restoring park



Ramsay – Bessemer Township Memorial Park was once a swimming destination before floods washed the dam away in the 1990s, and township leaders are adding a more natural water attraction this summer.

The wading and swimming hole is part of an ongoing $400,000 park restoration that has brought new playground equipment, renovated tennis courts and added a basketball-pickleball court with lighting, said Bessemer Township Supervisor Jeffery Randall.

The pool will be an offshoot from the Black River, with a shallow end that slopes to around 4-foot at the deeper end. The actual depth will be determined by the seasonal rise and fall of the river, he said.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved the pool as something to support the floodplain, he said. The flowing pool does not increase the potential of flooding because more earth is removed from the basin, he said.

The rough dimensions of the pool at this point are approximately 26 feet by 7 feet at the widest point, he said. The design also prevents the pool from collecting river debris.

“It’s going to be long and narrow type of swimming hole,” Randall said. “It follows along the flow of the river, not exactly in the main flow of the channel, but it does allow the water to flow in and flow out to keep the water fresh and clean.”

The DNR permit is on hand and bids are now going out to dig the pool, he said. The goal is to have the pool dug out by season’s end so it can be used next year, he said.

Other work in the park completed this summer includes new concrete stairs down the steep slopes to the river park, and new parking areas above and below. The play area also has equipment that is not found in other area parks, he said. The kids wait in line to use the new mini-zipline equipment, he said.

There are bollards around the park area to provide definition and to prevent cars from coming into the park area, he said. That is a safety action but also to protect the soft ground of the park, he said.

“The bollards say that this is the edge of the road and keeps cars in the pathways and parking lots and it keeps the kids on the other side,” he said. “It does add a margin of safety to it.”

The historic Army tank has a new foundation, the pavilion and picnic areas are updated and the leaning four-sided stone cooking chimney built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s has been straightened on a new foundation.

A river basin and floodplain makes it difficult to maintain foundations, Randall said. A lot of work done in the park that is not visible include gravel and drain tile work to strengthen the ground to drain and control runoff, he said.

“It’s all part of this project,” Randall said. “We are taking care of a lot of little problems down there.”

Not too long after the township was founded, a shingle mill was constructed in the area of the park, he said. A dam was built to probably create a log pond, he said.

The mill closed in the 1930s and while the buildings were taken down the dam remained and the township dedicated the area as a park, he said. The dam created a natural swimming area with slides, a diving platform and a raft, while the Civilian Conservation Corps built a changing house and there was a concessions building.

“Once the dam was there I am sure people found it a lot of fun to swim in and cool down in the summer,” he said. “I hear from all kinds of people that it was so much fun to be here and swim.”

Floods undermined the ground underneath the stone buildings and they started to collapse into the river, he said. A major flood undermined the dam in the early 1990s, he said.

“People have always wanted the dam back for a swimming hole but a dam is very expensive to replace,” Randall said. “The environmental concerns are with the floodplain.”

The area remained a park but without much of an investment to maintain or upgrade, he said. There township board developed a recreation plan that incorporates the park as the Ramsaytrailhead of the Iron Belle Trail, which led to a $392,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund.

“The work on the planning and design of the park has been going on for eight or nine years,” he said. “It all came to fruition as work on the ground started last summer and we hope to finish up this summer.”

At the July township board meeting, Hope Tarnaski, board trustee, said the long-term plans include adding swings designed for an adult and child together, and swings that can hold a wheelchair. It would be the first park in the area to have them, she said.

“I am very passionate about this park,” Tarnaski said at the meeting.

Other physical accessibility improvements include more handicap parking, pressed gravel pathways that a wheelchair can traverse, and a fishing area point for wheelchairs near the river. The board will decide at a future meeting whether to make the park dog-friendly with a clean-up station.

“These are things that will be added over several years as the city can afford them,” Randall said.

Construction of the Iron Belle Trailhead from Bessemer to Ramsay is expected to start in 2020, he said. Bessemer Township Memorial Park will serve as the trailhead which is why the pavilion and upper parking lot were built so people to access the park to connect to non-motorized trail.

The pavilion is also a popular rental spot for everything from family reunions to wedding receptions, Randall said.

The Ramsey to Wakefield route of the Iron Belle Trail has yet to be determined, he said. By next summer the township board should have a good idea where the Iron Belle will run through Ramsay on its way to Wakefield, he said.

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