Restorative work continues at Veterans Memorial Park


by Donna Schillaci

What’s happening at the Muskegon County Veterans Memorial Park, once dubbed “Michigan’s most beautiful mile”? That has been a subject of much discussion over the past year, both on social media and in private conversations.
Last week, members of the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership (MLWP) and collaborative partners attempted to answer that question, during a walking tour of the newly restored areas of the park. The restoration project is a collective effort between civic and veterans groups, along with environmental organizations, to restore the original design, beauty, and ecological stability of the memorial park on the causeway between Muskegon and North Muskegon.

Kathy Evans is the MLWP coordinator and environmental program manager at the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC), which is directing the project. She told the tour group that the goal of the project was to “improve the environmental conditions, and at the same time, improve the aesthetics of the park.” While much of the habitat restoration work is done, the beautification effort continues and should be completed this summer.

Last summer, after relocation of all fish and wildlife, the park’s ponds were drained. The cattails were removed, and the side slopes were made steeper to discourage future invasive growth. In addition, the pond was made wider and deeper, and a wooden “fish condo” structure was built in the bed, to improve marine populations and prevent shoreline erosion. In December, the hydrological connection to the Muskegon River was re-established by replacing an aging control structure, which created a natural flow of water and restored passage for fish and wildlife.

More than 50,000 native plants have been added along the pond’s shore, explained Brian Majka, an environmental consultant with GEI Consulting who advised on the Veterans Memorial Park project. He said there are two planting zones: a sedge area, or “wetland lawn,” with 12-18” plants, and areas of taller grasses and wildflowers that will attract butterflies and birds.

The orange fences many have seen around the park are there temporarily to protect the low-growing, native plantings from waterfowl predation. Once the plants are established and firmly rooted, the fence will come down, likely within the next few weeks.

This summer’s historically high water levels has caused concern for some area residents who haven’t been able to access certain areas of the park due to water covering the walkways and bridges. Evans said most of the park has remained accessible even with the high water, and the problem will be completely remedied soon when the sidewalks and bridges are replaced and raised as part of the original restoration plan.

Part of the ecological restoration involved the removal of many dying trees in the park, some of which were purchased by veterans’ families as part of a living memorial project, with markers for their loved ones placed near each tree. Jamie Way, GIS technician at WMSRDC, told the tour group that great care was taken to carefully map out the memorial trees, identify the families affected, and make every effort to contact them to pick out a more appropriate replacement tree to be planted once the restoration is complete. Each memorial marker was carefully removed by the veterans groups first, then carefully organized and stored until they can be replaced near one of the newly planted trees.

Also speaking was Lupe Alviar, chair of the Veterans Advisory Committee which has been instrumental in the restoration, making sure the park is preserved as a place of reverence and honor for area veterans. Alviar spoke of earlier renovation projects at Veterans Memorial Park undertaken by the vets and the Northside Lions Club, underwritten by a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. (as reported in previous Examiners).

Funding for the latest restoration project at the park is provided by a $2.6 million grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to WMSRDC. Additional support came from the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes and the Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute.