Caring for Presque Isle
Issues at Presque Isle continue to make headlines as it seems people really, really care about what happens out there. From signage, to parking problems, to the bandshell… to general overall usage, city officials and the Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee have their hands full.
That group, also called PIPAC, held its regular monthly meeting this past Wednesday at the Presque Isle Park Pavilion. While some city advisory committees have a number of open seats, such is not the case with this one, which currently has a full roster.
Unlike the turnout at most of their meetings, a modest contingent of concerned citizens showed up, primarily to question the committee’s prior recommendation to expand walking hours around Presque Isle.
You may recall, at their last meeting they voted to increase the number of hours the island would be closed to vehicular traffic, igniting a small firestorm of protest from those who oppose the idea. That meeting was not well attended by the public, as most were not aware that some of the island’s driving hours were on the chopping block.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the public comment portion was dominated by those who spoke against the new hours, citing reasons both emotional and physical. Some said the new hours would interfere with their ability to take elderly relatives for their regular rides, while others spoke of their own physical limitations and how not allowing cars would put a cap on their opportunities to enjoy the island.
It was also noted that the new hours would close the road two days a week, out of seven, to those who drive to the island’s west side. So even though most of us know when the sun will set, we’ll still need to check the schedule if we hope to see it happen at Sunset Point, as seen above.
Walkers vs Riders
Here’s the rub… when the road is open to vehicular traffic, it’s also open to walkers and bikers. But when it’s closed to cars, it becomes “exclusionary,” as one commenter put it. It prevents a large segment of island visitors from enjoying what they went out there for… a drive around the island.
Can drivers and walkers co-exist? If drivers are courteous and follow the posted speed limit… yes. But, as it is with most “ifs,” that’s a big one. Not everyone shows respect for the rules, so car/person confrontations are always a possibility. But those occurrences are rare, if they occur at all. I’m not aware of that being a serious problem.
I had heard from one city administrator that citizen comments since the PIPAC recommendation have been split almost 50/50. Do we need another community survey to help the city decide what to do? I hope not. Just like our school board, we elect and hire them to make such decisions.
Back to Business
Once the public comment portion of the meeting ended, PIPAC got back to the issues at hand. According to the agenda, Andrew MacIver, Assistant Director of Community Services and the city liaison to the committee, would be reporting on the following items: Park Usage, Reservation Calendar, Bandshell, Leave No Trace, PI Incident Updates, Signs, Deer Management Plan, and Erosion Fence.
As I settled in and prepared to take some notes about what I anticipated would be a lengthy and instructive give and take between MacIver and committee members, I suddenly realized it wasn’t happening. I heard MacIver make a couple brief comments to the committee, and apparently there was a little back and forth, but that was it. I was confused, and somewhat disappointed. I was hoping to hear an informed discussion about the Bandshell. And Park Usage. And Deer Management. And… well, all of it!
Apparently committee members had received the report via email prior to the meeting. It must have been quite thorough and definitive, since there was little further discussion. Before I knew it, they were on to the next agenda item… finding someone to serve as secretary.
I can’t speak for everyone in attendance, but I thought it would have been nice to see the committee in action… so to speak. The candid exchange of ideas is what meetings are for. In the committee’s defense, they usually don’t have a big audience, so they may not have been prepared to entertain spectators. But with the recent surge of interest in Presque Isle, that might be changing.
A lot of people give a considerable amount of time and energy to serve on our city committees. As such, we should hope their recommendations to staff, as well as to the city commission, carry the weight they deserve. Generally, those recommendations have been well thought out and researched by the people assigned to make them. They can and should be a valuable tool in the decision-making process.
If we take anything less than that from the Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee, we’re missing a real opportunity to take advantage of the experience and passion those committee members bring to the table.
I think city administrators know the committees can be more effectively utilized. There was talk of a tutorial program for all the people who serve on those committees… something that would better define everyone’s role. The sooner the better.
What about the new hours?
Back to the meeting, where once the business portion was complete, committee members took their turns with Member Comments. This is where we learned the decision to expand island walking hours was made based on staff shortages, and is a temporary change. Unless something dramatic happens in the interim, the new hours will remain in place for the rest of the island’s open season.
That news seemed to calm the masses, but you can be sure the topic will come up again. There are enough people in the community who like the expanded hours that the idea will certainly resurface. There are also more than a few people who would like to see walking hours done away with altogether.
Is a compromise possible? And how would that look different from what we have now? Maybe it’s time to consider the development of a dedicated walking path… one that would let those on foot explore parts of the island few of us seldom experience. That would require some physical changes to the island, and a budgetary commitment, but it might be something that could satisfy both sides of the 50/50 split.
A lot of love for Presque Isle
One thing is certain. What happens on Presque Isle, doesn’t stay on Presque Isle. Not everyone shows the same reverence, but most care about, and many care for, Presque Isle. Interestingly enough, while the PIPAC meeting was in progress, a group organized by the Marquette County Conservation District was policing the island, picking up trash. One of the many volunteer efforts that takes place around here, largely unnoticed, but greatly appreciated nonetheless.
As the meeting was shorter than I expected, I decided to use my extra time and take a nice ride around our crown jewel before heading home.
Sure enough. Closed to vehicular traffic.