HARBERT — The Chikaming Township Park Board held a May 10 special meeting to discuss (and hear pubic comments) related to proposed enhancements to Harbert Community Park.
The Park Board has engaged local architect Bill McCollum and landscape architects/urban designers Altamanu, Inc., to create a development plan for the park, located at 13495 Red Arrow Highway. The design, which is based on the Chikaming Township Park Board Five-Year Strategic Plan, will include a small performance venue for events, an ADA-enabled pathway from parking lot to the pond and performance stage, and native landscaping around pond. The plan envisions removing the existing ball field to create an open meadow for events. Benches along paths have been included in cost estimates, with locations still to be finalized.
Future developments may include viewing platforms at the pond, a series of connected loop trails around the park, a children’s splash pad and discovery center. The plan will integrate existing plans to redesign Red Arrow Highway and the Berrien County Park Department Linear Park plan.
The proposal presented May 10 was developed by John Mac Manus and Josephine Bellalta of Altamanu Inc., and McCollum, along with members of a Park Board committee.
Mac Manus said one of the goals was to create a focal point that would draw people to an entry to the park.
In the long-term he said adding some sort of a splash pad or interactive water feature to the playground area is being considered, adding that they are expensive.
“However we could certainly do a discovery area with natural elements for the kids starting right now.”
Other features in the design presented May 10 include a native pollinator garden.
“The idea is to walk along a path through that garden from the pond,” Mac Manus said.
He said the park divides into different uses from north to south – a natural area, then the picnic shelter and playground, the volleyball court/ice rink in the center, a baseball field (currently little-used) and then the dog park.
He said creating a “circulation path system” to link all of the park’s parts together would end the current disjointed feeling.
Mac Manus also said they are suggesting that the Little League baseball field fences be removed and that area be changed into a multi-purpose field with the lights remaining and a performance stage added (“out in left field” as Park Board Chairman Arthur Anderson later noted). The area could also be used for a marketplace, a “Taste of Chikaming” event and other activities.
“So this could become an outdoor amphitheater, it could be used for pick-up games, it could be used for any sort of game,” Mac Manus said.
A loop path around the field would continue on around the dog park, with a connection possible to a trailhead and the township office.
“We can divide these elements up any way you like. Obviously it has to be done over time,” MacManus said.
Public comments made during the public hearing portion of the May 10 special meeting included:
Jill Underhill (a former Park Board member) saying the area around the pond can become quite swampy to walk on (Anderson later said an elevated boardwalk would cost abut 10 times as much as a cement pathway). She also voiced support for making changes to the ball field area.
Bernie Dahl asking about the possibility of active recreation in the park. He said during a recent visit he was impressed by how many kids were playing in the park. “And yet, other than that playground … there’s not much else active recreation.” He mentioned the possibility of a basketball court with adjustable rim heights so parents and their kids could use it, as well as pickle ball.
Nicolette Wands, owner of Harbor Country Cabins located across the street, noting that the playground and the covered patio seem to get the most use. “I’ve seen many small birthday parties and small children gatherings,” she said. Wands said the dog park also appears to be highly used, adding some sort of an area for physical activities also would be good.
Steve Ellis mentioned the possibility of a linear park eventually passing by and a trailhead being located at Harbert Community Park (something Anderson later said the township Planning Commission is in the early stages of exploring).
Other commenters mentioned a walking track of some sort with exercise stations or disc golf.
Anderson later said establishing a disc golf course at the nearby Chikaming Park and Preserve also has been talked about.
Anderson also talked about a written statement submitted by Enrico Heirmann (former Park Board chairman) supporting keeping the ball field if possible, adding that a youth baseball team has not been found to use the field, which is too small for adults.
Anderson said committee members Joseph Reed, Kathy Sellars, Garth Taylor and himself helped develop the plan.
Reed said the idea behind the native pollinator garden is fantastic.
Taylor said from his point of view it’s a really nice vision of a future for Harbert Community Park to make it an important central point for Harbert and the township.
Sellars asked if the yellow portions of the plan (a path along the pond shown in yellow as the 1A portion) can be done without the red segments identified as 1B (including a path leading from the playground/shelter to the stage), and Mac Manus said they could be flipped in order or mixed.
Anderson said additions such as viewing platforms near the pond or exercise stations along the loop path may be added on in the future. He also said a Michiana Arts Foundation grant will be sought to help pay for the performance venue, with that structure and the path leading to it top priorities for 2021.
“What a place to make new memories, and as a community member I’m really excited about the new planned new ideas,” said Park Board member Shelly Taylor.
Anderson said the May 10 hearing “is not the end of the discussion.”
“We have a lot of planning still ahead … and we will vote to raise the funding and finalize a list of enhancements, probably at our next meeting on May 26th,” he said.