Trailway organizers are taking a different approach to raise funds for a non-motorized pathway system in the tri-county area. In May, voters will decide if they want a non-motorized trail system by way of a millage.
The ballot question would ask voters to amend the Southern Lakes Park and Recreation (SLPR) charter to include a levy and collection in the amount of 1.2 mills for 10 years, from 2019 to 2028, to provide funds for non-motorized recreational paths and facilities.
Residents in the cities of Fenton and Linden, and Fenton Township will see the question on the ballot. The three municipalities are considered one district in the SLPR charter. If the mileage receives more “yes” votes, it will pass.
The Southern Lakes Pathway Initiative is the volunteer committee spearheading the millage. SLPR is not legally allowed to fundraise or sway voters.
The LAFF (Linden, Argentine, Fenton, Fenton Township) pathway group, which is still involved in the campaign to pass the millage, is the grassroots organization that started the efforts to bring a non-motorized pathway to the area.
SLPR is moving away from the singular “pathway.”
“We’re trying to build a trailway system,” said Vince Paris, director of SLPR. “A system of non-motorized pathways that seniors can use, for moms pushing strollers, runners, roller bladers. It’ll be 100-percent ADA (American with Disabilities) accessible. Not just for bikes.”
Instead of only the Silver Lake Road pathway, which organizers call a “connector,” plans now include building a non-motorized pathway from Fenton Road within the city to the Thompson Road Regional Dog Park, and a pathway on Owen Road to the Linden County Park.
“The Silver Lake Road connector is the most talked about but it’s only part of the trial system. These are the first three segments we’re looking at,” he said.
Paris said they’ve been discussing a millage for more than a year, and the decision was made in the fall of 2018. SLPR hired an attorney to write the ballot language and then send it to the state for approval. The state then sent it to Genesee County, which disseminated it to the three municipalities where residents will vote on it.
“The boards are all on board with it,” Paris said. “All municipalities have supported the trailway system in writing.”
The millage is expected to raise just more than $1.4 million in the first year. If the millage passes, SLPR will be temporary owners of the trailway system. They will seek right-of-ways from residents.
Because the change is an amendment to its charter, SLPR will be the agency assigned for the millage, Paris said, but the city of Fenton is the lead agency for non-motorized trailway money. Fenton is an Act 51 agency, meaning the city can receive grants from the state. Since SLPR is not an Act 51 agency, it had to work with an entity that is.
SLPR is actively working on securing three grants through the city. The first is a county grant for $432,000, which it applied for in November. Paris expects to hear if they received it in May or June. The second is a grant from the state for approximately $1 million, which they will hear about “much later” in 2019, he said.
The third grant is through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund for $300,000. They could potentially secure around $1.7 million in grants. Organizers can use millage dollars to levy more grants with local matching dollars.
However, grants will not pay for the entire system. The estimated cost of the pathways is almost $14 million, Paris said.
“We’re connecting Fenton, Fenton Township and the city of Linden on a trail system that will connect to Argentine and maybe to Byron. Maybe Holly will pick it up,” Paris said. “The state wants to see regional cooperation. Because SLPR works with so many municipalities, we’re in a perfect position to spearhead this.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 30, SLPI held a fundraiser at Fenton Winery and Brewery that raised approximately $40,000, said Ed Koledo, chair of SLPI.
“Multiple corridors allow the use for much of our communities to transverse east-to-west on pathways that are free of motor traffic for pedestrians. These connections will be incredible and are likely to spur additional pathways to connect even more communities,” he said.
Koledo cited the benefits of non-motorized pathways, health and wellness — it’s physical activity for all who use them. He also cited the economic value, such as one in 20 employed Americans working in the outdoor recreation industry, the 50 to 70 million people who use pathways in America each year, and that pathways lead to higher property values and better living; environmental benefits and a transportation alternative.