Kelsie Damber and neighbor Eva DeGlopper, both of Burnips, make their way to the trailhead at Silver Creek County Park at the start of the 2016 Benefit Ride annual fundraiser. The county is seeking a grant to improve campsites at the park, used by many equestrians at this event and throughout the year. (File photo)

Grant would improve Silver Creek equestrian park

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

If won, a $300,000 state grant could improve Silver Creek County Park near Hamilton.

Allegan County Commissioners voted 5-2 at their March 14 meeting to approve applying for the grant, which will add barrier-free campsites, a new parking area, a payment booth, electrical service and a security light.

The improvements are designed to improve access at the 49-year-old rustic camp primarily used by equestrians. It currently has 75 camp sites, all available for horse camping.

The county is applying to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for the grant; another $125,700 of the parks department money will exceed the local, required match to qualify for it.

That $425,700 total project cost will be used for:

• three sites converted to barrier-free campsites with electrical outlets to increase access; they include a concrete pad for the trailer with grounds leveled with the pad. The campground currently has no such sites.

• a day-use, 29-spot paved parking area to better accommodate non-campers; there is very little parking outside of individual campsites currently

• ADA-compliant registration booth that can accept electronic payment, again for increasing access for day-visitors

• improve a portion of the campground road, to better enable campers to reach the rustic sites with all types of vehicles

• electrical system throughout the park, initially: pedestals at the barrier-free campsites, an LED security light and the registration booth. This will add more ease of use and security.

The 320-acre, wooded campground connects to 30 miles of horseback riding trails, all part of the Allegan County Equestrian Trail System. Together with parks at Ely Lake and Pine Point, Silver Creek County Park is a main staging area to access the trails.

County parks coordinator Brandy Gildea said funding would determine how quickly other sites could be wired with electricity.

“I would like to see us budget through either capital or the operational budget to add electric to five to seven sites each year, until all ‘modern’ campsites have electric,” she said. “Some sites are going to stay rustic and will not have electric.”

Commissioner Tom Jessup, who voted against the application along with Commissioner Max Thiele, said, “I’ll be voting ‘no’ on this one—not because I don’t think it’s a good idea.

“I just don’t like the idea of not finishing West Side park or Ely, not even Littlejohn.”

He said the county had conducted a timber sale to help provide matching funds for grants for improvements at county parks

“We got a nice plan for Littlejohn,” Jessup said. “And then we abandoned that and went to West Side. Now we’ve abandoned that, and now we’re going to Silver Creek. I think it might be nice, but I think we might have stayed with our original plan.”

Gildea said a variety of factors had likely delayed work at the other parks. For example, the rising lake level had complicated plans at West Side County Park.

“The plan had been to complete Phase 1, which we did in 2015 and 2016, and then apply for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant in 2018 to complete Phase 2,” Gildea said. “Due to all the issues we were having with the high water levels and losing the accessible boardwalk/ramp structure to the beach, we decided to wait a year and see if we could come up with a better plan that would maximize funding to help rebuild an accessible structure on to the beach that would not be affected by the changing water levels and compete with other items on the master plan.”

That included updating the restrooms, improving the play structure area, and adding a drive along the south side of park.

“By September 2018, through Parks Advisory Board discussions, we realized we would still not have a good plan to rebuild a beach structure at West Side by the time the 2019 grant application was due April 1,” she said. “The Parks Advisory Board reviewed that project against several other projects—Littlejohn, Silver Creek, etc.—and thought they would have better chance of being awarded a grant elsewhere, as we did not think we would be awarded a grant at West Side without a new plan for an accessible structure to the beach.”

So, the advisory board recommended the Silver Creek park project.

“I would also love to see us complete Phase 2 of the West Side project, but I also want to ensure we have a great plan for the beach structure that will last a long time and maximize the funding we get from the grant.”

She said the master plan that included improvement goals for Littlejohn County Park was created at the same time as Silver Creek’s approximately nine years ago. That preceded her tenure with the county; she assumes funding issues are likely why plans stalled out.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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