The 300-acre Ott Biological Preserve, located in Calhoun County, Michigan, is at risk of being turned into a heavy-equipment construction zone. This Preserve is owned by Calhoun County and is public property, but the Calhoun County Trailway Alliance (a private group) wants to eliminate its peaceful, meandering nature trails. Instead, they want to construct a 14-foot wide (10 foot-wide with 2 ft of clearance on each side) bituminous (concrete, asphalt per their grant application #TF10-031) or other “smooth” surfaced “trail.” But this is not about trail surface. Rather, this is about changing the entire dynamic of our last naturally developed County-owned Preserve. To put this in perspective, you could fit two cars side-by-side on their proposed “trail.” Engineering proposals have been solicited so they can bring in heavy machinery and start development in 2012. The decision to approve or deny this project rests in the hands of our elected Calhoun County Commissioners. They will decide the fate of the Preserve April 19, 2012.
Ott has been a Biological wilderness Preserve since 1911. It is the most diverse and pristine natural area that Calhoun County owns with vast public accessibility due to numerous trails. The Calhoun County Trailway Alliance hatched their trail development plans at a series of mostly closed-door meetings, with a majority of the members composed of local government entities, not private citizens. One of the Alliance’s construction plans runs atop a fragile mile-long glacial esker, formed 10,000 years ago, and within 20 feet of rare, spring-fed, and globally threatened wetland prairie fen habitat.
Ott provides habitat to many animals and plants, some of which are state designated as threatened. The proposed trail-widening and establishment will create drainage issues, erosion and loss of habitat, all unavoidable, reported side-effects in similar construction projects. The heavy equipment and digging will bring in and spread invasive plants which can quickly outcompete and crowd out the native wildflowers and plant-life of Ott.
Turning this peaceful Preserve into an urban park with a 14 foot wide “road-trail,” would change Ott into what every other County park is: road-like, loud, and with very limited nature experience. The Preserve already has extensive natural trails throughout, and is used on a regular basis for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching, nature photography, hiking, wildlife watching, running and education opportunities for local schools and colleges. All of the so-called “enhancements” that the Trailway Alliance say they will create, already exist there. These activities represent viable “outdoor recreation” pursuits!
UPDATE March 2012: The decision to approve or deny this project rests in the hands of the Calhoun County Commissioners. These elected officials voted on April 7, 2011 (one year ago!) to allow a compromised route in Ott Preserve property, closely following the Western boundary Consumer Energy lines that are already cleared. The Calhoun County Trailway Alliance was unwilling to invest in developing this trail entirely using Consumer’s Energy right-of-way passage. They secured Consumer’s Energy permission and DEQ approval for this trail route. Instead they opted to jog outside of this route onto private properties bordering the Preserve in a few areas. Private property owners did not agree to their (County/Trailway) proposal resulting in collapse of the agreement. No one wants this 14-ft “road-trail” in their backyard, yet the Alliance claims “everyone” wants it.
The Calhoun County Trailway Alliance, Calhoun County Parks/Road Commission and a handful of vocal pro-trail development followers are meeting with engineers and officials privately to get their original 14-foot wide “road-trail” back into the Preserve without public input. Ott Biological Preserve still lacks base-line studies, a management plan from a conservation biologist, and any “real” protections that could be gained through putting the land into a conservation easement with a qualified land conservancy. County Commissioners will vote on April 19, 2012 and need to hear from you today!
Compromise trail routes still exist:
The Alliance has refused to consider running their trail straight down the already-cleared Consumers Energy power line right-of-way, along the West boundary of the Preserve, and straight to East Michigan Avenue. Instead of considering this more sensible alternative, the Alliance wants to cut through the most beautiful parts of Ott at nature’s expense.
Another alternative is to omit the Preserve from the trailway proposal and instead market it as an “off-road” exploration, encouraging people to park their bikes and hike in for a refreshing wilderness escape. Nominal improvements like bike racks, and signage could be developed. This would be the most economical choice clearly!
Do not let history repeat itself 17 years later. In 1994, the County logged over 300 old-growth trees. One of these was 278 years old, dating to before our country’s founding. The County practically gave the trees away for approximately $120 each. A second phase of logging was stopped only after the community expressed outrage.
Make your voice heard by signing the petition and sending a letter. Although Ott Biological Preserve is owned by Calhoun County, it is public land, and you are a stakeholder in the management of our local natural resources. If we do not maintain the Ott Biological wilderness as a true "preserve,” we will not have the land to share with our families and children for generations.
Attend the Calhoun County Commission meeting on April 19, 2012 at 7pm, located at 315 W. Green St, Marshall, MI. A personally drafted letter from local residents to the Calhoun County Commissioners is fundamental; please take the time to also express your dissatisfaction for further development in Ott by writing to them. The decision to allow trail development, or not, is expected to be made April 19, 2012!
Commissioner contact info can be found at: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/government/board_of_commissioners