Years ago, Traverse City capped an artesian well that runs underneath the Open Space. It's a lot of water just being dumped into Grand Traverse Bay.
But soon it'll be re-routed into a shallow creek-like play area that children can run through and splash in.
It's being dedicated this afternoon, amidst the hustle-and-bustle of the National Cherry Festival. But construction is likely to be delayed.
This stream, or creek, or water play area is still a little bit undefined. But we know it will be shallow, and designed for child's play and it's likely to weave its way through the park from the west end of the Marina, near the Open Space, over toward Clinch Park Beach.
It's all possible because of this water ever flowing today from a rather uninteresting pipe sticking out of the marina break wall near the Open Space. Water funnels here from underground through the break wall and rather unceremoniously dumps into the bay here.
Turns out the source of this water is an artesian well, a continuously flowing groundwater well that would naturally come to the surface in the grass nearby, close to some train tracks.
"We became aware that this was an artesian well during that process," says Gary Howe. He sits on the city Parks & Recreation Commission and he's been part of the city's Bayfront planning process. "And it was kind of an 'ah-ha' moment for many of us, like, 'Well, why are we just dumping it into the bay through a pipe that everyone thinks is polluted?'
"So we have actually had the water tested, and it is clean and safe. It actually has a little iron in it, but that won't hurt anybody."
Howe says there's still a lot to be worked out. Final design plans still have to be drawn and there are community decisions that still have to be made. For example, some people want to see a very natural-looking creek here, with a dirt bottom. Others imagine something lined and more urban-looking.
"But how we play with it and what we design with it I think will be really critical because it'll be one of those places that creates a sense of place for people to come down," he says. "They're going to want to play in it. They're going to want to touch it, going to just watch it. As we're standing next to it now, it's so much nicer down here with the sound of running water. So even designing into that something besides just visual - but the sound!"
Howe says the main problem with Traverse City's bayfront parkland today is that many of its spaces are just places to pass through - not this week, with Cherry Festival tents up and activities all over. But most of the year, there's a lot of unused space. He says the stream would help make these spaces more of a destination - a place to lose yourself for hours on end.
The William G. Milliken Children's Stream
Steve Rawlings says, of all the ideas and plans out there for a major overhaul of this long stretch of downtown waterfront parkland, this children's stream is the one that most captivates him. He's a regional manager in Traverse City for DTE Energy. The company is shelling out $150,000 dollars to see it built.
They hope it will be fun for kids and fitting for the area, but also educational - creating, as Rawlings says, generations of freshwater stewards.
"That's our hope and we think it's going to be a great project and we can't want to see when it's done. And maybe in a short year or two we'll have something to come back here and celebrate again," he says.
With DTE's gift to the city, the energy company was also given naming rights.
"Just didn't seem right to call it the DTE Energy Stream," Rawlings chuckles. Instead DTE dedicates it today after former governor Bill Milliken.
"We could connect the dots between someone who is one of the state's original environmental and freshwater stewards who happens to be a native of this town and this region. And it, at that point, felt just normal and right to call it the William G. Milliken Children's Stream."
Delay Seems Likely As City Grapples With Train's Future
But, there could be a delay in building the stream. Leaders had hoped to start construction in the fall. Some still do. But here's the stream is one part of a much-larger downtown bayfront redesign, with all sorts of changes and new amenities. And a long-time facet of this park is not part of those future plans, the small steam-engine train that's run through the park for decades.
A group is trying hard to save it, the train known as the Spirit of Traverse City. Tuesday, city commissioners heard them out and they decided to back up and take another hard look at whether it's possible to keep the train in the park.
That move frustrated some members of the Parks & Rec Commission and the Bayfront Steering Committee. They say the issue was studied hard during a multi-year public process. And they say it will no longer fit. There's also safety and liability concerns.
Meanwhile the train's supporters have launched a Facebook page with nearly 1,500 supporters.