By Jim Newell
The Village of Lake Orion currently has a representative on the Paint Creek Trail Commission, but only as a non-voting member.
Now that the Downtown Development Authority is extending the Paint Creek Trail through the village, they have asked the Trail Commission to become a full voting member.
The request came at the Trail Commission’s meeting April 18, after The Lake Orion Review press time.
The commission did vote unanimously to create a sub-committee to evaluate the village’s inclusion, but also raised several questions.
While commissioners welcomed the addition, some had concerns about the nature of the trail through the village, questioning whether the “urban” element would be counterintuitive to the trail.
Trail Manager Kristen Myers said Lake Orion currently has a quarter-mile long stretch of the Paint Creek Trail that ends at the Atwater Commons. The proposed addition would extend the trail by another mile and take it through the village.
The Paint Creek Trail Commission is made up of four member communities, each with voting rights – Orion Twp., Oakland Twp., Rochester and Rochester Hills.
The trail is 8.9 miles long and runs through each of the communities. Lake Orion would become the fifth voting member, if approved.
Approval would require all the member communities to support Lake Orion’s addition to the commission.
“We’re working really hard to get the trail extended (into Lake Orion) and we’re really excited to become a part of the Paint Creek Trail,” Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Molly LaLone said, adding she wants the trail to connect downtown Rochester to downtown Lake Orion.
“It has been the goal for many years to connect the communities,” said commission Chairman David Becker.
Lake Orion Village Manager Joe Young had sent a letter, dated April 4, to the commission asking to begin the process.
“Our goal is to get this built this season. We have the funding in place, the easement in place and will start construction this summer,” Young said.
Young also offered in-kind services, such as the LOPD patrolling the village’s portion of the trail and the DPW maintaining the trail. “The LOPD would provide patrol services of its part of the trail,” he said.
Lake Orion acquired an easement from Lake Orion Lumber in December. The trail would extend from Atwater Street, through the lumberyard, the village streets and end at Elizabeth Street. The Lake Orion DDA is financing the project, with costs expected to be more than $250,000.
In addition, if Lake Orion becomes part of the commission, it would have to pay an annual membership of $17,000, which LaLone and Young have asked to be reduced in exchange for the village providing security through the Lake Orion Police Dept. and maintenance through the DPW.
While the village government would appoint a voting member to the commission, officials have said they want the DDA to pay the annual membership fee.
Becker suggested the commission form a sub-committee with one member from each of the voting communities and a village representative to evaluate the proposal of adding Lake Orion as a voting member of the Paint Creek Trail Commission.
“I certainly think we should move forward. This has been a long time coming,” said Rock Blanchard, vice-president of the trail commission.
“I’m hoping our costs into the (the trail extension) would be taken into account in our membership. We have significant resources in place with the LOPD and village DPW,” LaLone said.
Frank Ferriolo, one of Oakland Township’s representatives on the trail commission, questioned whether adding Lake Orion would go against the trail’s natural character.
“I hope I’m wrong, but my impression is that this is emptying into a business area,” Ferriolo said, adding he wants to “preserve the characteristic of the trail as we know it and love it.”
He wants the sub-committee to truly evaluate whether or not including the village’s portion of the trail is appropriate for the Paint Creek Trail as it exists.
“I want the commission to walk into this as an evaluation act instead of an open-arms act,” Ferriolo said.
“This would be an urban part of the trail,” Becker said.
“Lake Orion is not as busy as Rochester,” LaLone told the commissioners. “Rochester is very charming, but we’re more charming.”
Commissioner Linda Gamage made the motion to form a sub-committee to explore the option of adding Lake Orion to the commission as a full voting member.
Blanchard said the sub-committee needs to consider that the commission will not own the one mile extension through the village, so the trail commission will not have any responsibility for that portion of the trial.
“This extension has been part of the Paint Creek Trail commission’s master plan,” said Myers.
Trail commissioners also questioned whether or not the village’s portion of the trail needed to be officially called “The Paint Creek Trail” and could just be considered an extension without the name.
“It’s important for it to be called Paint Creek for branding and recognition,” LaLone said. “You’re the first and most well-known and I think the prettiest.”
Orion Twp. Trustee Brian Birney, who sits on the trail commission, said that from a demographic standpoint it would be a missed opportunity if the commission did not include the village portion of the trail into the Paint Creek designation system.
Birney cited the local businesses – the restaurants, coffee shops, bike and running shops and wood shop – in Lake Orion as attractions that would make the village an idyllic addition to the trail system.
“There’s all these unique places down there,” Birney said, alleviating commissioners’ concerns of an urban environment. “It’s not some sort of thriving metropolis. I have colleagues that would frown heavily if the commission misses the opportunity to include Lake Orion.”
By Jim Newell