County gets $1 million grant to create wetlands

Nature project will cap south end of Blue Water River Walk

By Beth LeBlanc
The Times Herald (Port Huron)

PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — The south end of the Blue Water River Walk project soon could be home to spawning fish and migratory birds.

The St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Department received a $1,039,500 grant recently to develop 2.75 acres of coastal wetlands on the St. Clair River in Port Huron.

The wetlands project will cap the south end of the 4,300-foot Blue Water River Walk, and serve as a fish habitat and a spot for migratory birds.

“The project is a direct result of the Community Foundation’s Blue Water River Walk master plan, which called for creating wetlands at the south end of the property,” Mark Brochu, county parks and recreation director, told The Times Herald of Port Huron.

County parks still is negotiating a price for the 2.75-acre parcel with Acheson Ventures. Brochu expects to come to an agreement within a month.

He said the grant from the Sustain Our Great Lakes program requires a $300,000 match from the county.

That match can include the acquisition cost of the property, which is being paid for in part through a trust fund grant.

Brochu said the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant covers one half of the acquisition cost up to $150,000.

The wetlands will feature natural water formations and native plants and habitat. Brochu said the area will not look like a manicured park.

“Residents should not be looking for something that would look like a backyard garden,” he said.

The park, which will begin near the walking trail at the Military Street underpass, will include the non-motorized path on the east side of the property. Preliminary plans include a boardwalk that will split off the path, meander through the wetlands and rejoin the path farther north when it curves back to the river, Brochu said.

“It will be a real educational opportunity,” Brochu said. “These were the type of wetlands that were in the area before man came in and changed the area for our purposes.”

Douglas Touma is chairman of the Blue Water Land Fund, a subsidiary of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County. Touma said the wetlands are a nice addition to the overall project.

“We think it will just coordinate greatly with what we’re going to do,” Touma said. “We’ve always felt this is not one project, but a series of projects.”

Randy Maiers, president and chief executive officer for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, said the community foundation plans to donate to county parks some of the land it received from Acheson Ventures.

The additional eastern shoreline and the trail at the west border of the park will make a complete parcel for the new county park, Maiers said.

Maiers said an old paper warehouse has been removed from the parcel in preparation for the county’s purchase and development.

“I don’t know how much more luck we can have on this project,” Maiers said. “It’s picked up so much momentum.”

A Port Huron Rotary Club park will sit at the north end of the Blue Water River Walk.

Between the north and south parks will be nearly 4,300 feet of restored shoreline, shallow water spawning reefs, a wide non-motorized path and a ferry dock with a 2,500-square-foot viewing deck.

Major construction on the shoreline should finish toward the end of the summer. Trail construction will begin in the fall, and the rest of construction should wrap up in spring 2014, Maiers said.

Brochu said work on the wetlands portion of the project should pick up in spring 2014.