White Park to See Improvements for Bicyclists, Birds, Fishers, and Amphibians

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019, 8:35 am
Chris Gray

Photo of a cardinal pair by Jim Pivarnik.

An unusually sunny day just after the winter solstice provides ample opportunity to step out of hibernation and enjoy the East Lansing habitat.

Spot the red blush of the ever-present cardinal. Hear the song of the returning junco, that winter-loving bird. And stroll or cycle along the Northern Tier Trail to soak up the sun, sounds and sights of nature’s beauty.

The East Lansing Council recently approved funding for a new extension to the Northern Tier Trail, the bike path that ambles intermittently through the city’s northern neighborhoods. The three-quarter-mile extension will weave through Albert A. White Memorial Park, and enable cyclists and pedestrians to connect to the Meridian Township trail system at the northeast corner of the park, via Towar Avenue and Birch Row Drive. (See the plans here.)

The contract for the project was awarded to Montgomery Excavating of Ionia, the lowest bidder at about $600,000, with $30,000 set aside for contingency costs. Other bidders ranged from $700,000 to $1.8 million.

The park improvements are being funded with a $469,000 grant from the Ingham County Trails and Parks millage, matched with a $300,000 grant from the Michigan National Resources Trust. The Council gave unanimous final approval to the project in its consent agenda last week.

Northern Tier Trail pathway to extend beyond five miles 

“The most expensive part of the contract is the trail construction,” explained Wendy Longpre, assistant director of East Lansing Parks & Recreation.

The Northern Tier Trail now has 4.5 miles of paved pathways. The additional 3,000 feet through the park will bring the total over 5 miles.

Longpre said park officials would like for the network to have better extensions to the west, but housing and commercial developments make it more difficult. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust denied a grant application for East Lansing to build bridges over roadways to improve the system in that direction.

The connection at the northeast end of White Park bridges a gap to Meridian Township’s 80 miles of paved pathways.

This was the second round of bidding for the project after the first round brought bids at least 50 percent over budget. The Parks & Recreation Department trimmed costs by redesigning the trail with more asphalt and less boardwalk where possible through the swampy woods, and by shifting pedestrian and bicycle crossings of Lake Lansing Road into a separate project, to be completed with input from the Ingham County Road Department.

“We didn’t want that more complicated part of it to hang up the rest of the project,” Longpre said.

Preserving the habitat by eliminating invasive species

In addition to a new bike trail, park officials plan to eradicate invasive species from around the White Park Pond and near a unique but threatened vernal pool at the northeast corner of the woods, which provides habitat to amphibians. “It serves a valuable purpose from an ecological standpoint,” Longpre said. “The vernal pond is completely naturally occurring.”

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that flood in the spring but dry up in the summer, helping species that would be out-competed in a year-round pond.

Leading invasive, nonnative plants include buckthorn, wild rose and barberry, which disrupt the ecosystem and displace native flora.

“We want to prevent invasive species from getting in there and disturbing the natural process,” Longpre explained.

An unpaved natural trail of stone and wood chips will also be routed through the park woods north of the pond to increase recreation access. Additionally, the White Park Pond will be stocked with panfish so that children can have a place to put a pole in the water.

“It might be the place some young children would go to have their first fishing experience,” she said.

Longpre said some dying, dead or fallen trees might be removed for the pathways, but the excavators will work around any healthy trees.

White Park started as a donation from the White Family in 1969 and has been expanded several times, most recently a decade ago to put the park at 47.8 acres. It is one of the most diverse parks in the city in terms of amenities, with baseball and soccer fields as well as trails and the fish pond, a tiny kettle lake created in the Ice Age but expanded by the Ingham County Drain Commissioner’s Office to act as a retention pond.

The invasive species will be targeted for removal this winter, and construction of the new paths will start in spring and last through the end of summer. The extensions to the Northern Tier Trail should be finished a year from now, when the juncos make their annual return from the Arctic.

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