Three Republicans in Schoolcraft Township Board Primary

Steven Fryling, Tamra Stafford and incumbent Greg Feldmeier are vying for two four-year trustee positions on the Schoolcraft Township Board in the Aug. 4 primary. There are no Democratic candidates to face the primary winners in the Nov. 3 general election. Trustees are paid $100 per meeting.

Greg Feldmeier: It has been a privilege to be a trustee on the Schoolcraft Township Board for the past eight years.

I practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Kalamazoo for 40 years , retiring six years ago. Ann and I raised five children and now are most fortunate to have nine grandchildren coming to our lake home regularly. We moved to the township in 2002.

During my tenure on the Board:

• Our roads  have  been improved significantly.  There is still work to be done, especially on the low-volume roads and the plats, while maintaining the more heavily used roads so that they don’t need major repairs, as had been the case prior to 2002.

• Swan Park has blossomed under the direction and hard work of Ryan LaPorte. If you haven’t been out there, take a look! It is amazing!

• The 131 Industrial Corridor has continued to develop with several major projects and the substantial enlargement of the J. Rettenmaier plant.

• We are financially sound on the 0.87 mills allocated to us. There is currently more than a one-year cushion in the bank.

I would like to continue as a Trustee of Schoolcraft Township for another 4 years in order to continue to help with the growth and development of our township, while maintaining its rural character and our superb quality of life.

Thank you,
Greg Feldmeier

Steve Fryling: I grew up in Mendon and graduated from WMU in 1985, in science, social studies and education.

My wife, Holly, and I moved back to Mendon where I started teaching. From 1986-1990, I served as a Mendon Village Trustee and at age 24, was elected Village President. In 1990, I was elected as a Republican to serve on the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners for one term before moving my family to Vicksburg in 1991.

Holly worked for Vicksburg Optometry and I worked for Vicksburg Schools as a teacher and principal. Both daughters are Vicksburg grads.

I have served on the Schoolcraft Township Planning Commission, the Vicksburg Schools Foundation, and as Lay Leader at Vicksburg United Methodist Church.

In 2018 I retired after 33 years in teaching, leading the staff at Vicksburg Middle School, and helping to start and lead an alternative high school in Vicksburg, that has over 110 graduates.

“Retired life” includes managing our family’s apartment rental business in Mendon, and being a grandfather.

The township board does not communicate well with the taxpayers and often takes actions without getting proper input, as shown by the misguided attempt at a charter. Citizens need better access to township information and feel that they are a part of the decision-making process. I can do better.

Tamra Stafford: A lifelong resident of Vicksburg, I now reside in Schoolcraft Township with my husband of 36 years. Our son grew up here and graduated from Vicksburg High School. I hold a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I am a member of Vicksburg United Methodist Church.

I have strong leadership and organizational skills. I’m no stranger to government, having worked in the Kalamazoo city manager’s office for almost 10 years. I retired from the Air Zoo after more than 19 years, after building its volunteer program to over 200 volunteers as human resources director, membership manager, and volunteer manager.

I have gained leadership experience and organizational skills, with experience working on boards and committees. I recently joined the Vicksburg Historical Society Board of Directors.

I work part-time for South County Community Services as transportation coordinator, working with volunteers to help seniors and the disabled obtain rides through the Metro Share Van Program.

My passion is helping others and working with volunteers. I am dedicated to this community, as my experience shows. Loyal, honest and hard-working, I would truly appreciate your vote for Schoolcraft Township trustee on August 4.

I hope to educate the public on township services through Facebook, website, e-mails and phone calls, to listen to our taxpayers, be compassionate and understanding and have an open mind for comments and suggestions.

Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center Goes Virtual

Krista Grotelueschen, new acting executive director of the cultural arts center, and behind her the beginning of a collage project, “Your Square Matters.”

By Jake Munson

With everything always changing, and with the social distancing guidelines in place for social gatherings, the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) has been hard at work revising current and developing new programs for the community.

The Tournament of Writers submission deadline has been extended one more time to Monday, June 15. Judges are ready to start reading and scoring the entries once all the submissions are in. Category winners will be announced on Wednesday, July 15 via Facebook Live and will be posted on Facebook and the VCAC website immediately after.

Last April 20, the VCAC introduced the first theme for a new “art2share Digital Gallery.”Each Monday, a new theme is introduced. Anyone is welcome to submit works in all media for any of the themes that have been announced. The pieces are uploaded to the page on its website for everyone to enjoy. The VCAC has even received submissions from North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. To view the galleries, go to the VCAC website,

On Tuesday, May 26, the VCAC introduced another new program. “Your Square Matters” is a community collage project that will incorporate different 8”x 8” images from members in the community. These are images that represent something or someone they care about, such as their family, friends, pets, or a favorite hobby. Together these images will be displayed in the front windows of the VCAC located at 105 S. Main St. in the heart of downtown Vicksburg. For more info on this collaborative project, you can head to

The VCAC is also developing plans for “Art Kits” which kids will be able to take with them and work on in the comfort of their own home this summer. Follow the VCAC website and social media for updates.

While the VCAC has developed many new programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have also added a new member to their Board of Directors. Kari L. de Boer, LPC, ATR, brings a fresh, new perspective to the VCAC board as a registered art therapist who has spent the last 22 years learning about and advocating for efficacy of the arts in healing and arts education. De Boer says of becoming a part of the VCAC family, “Joining the board during a world-wide pandemic is certainly interesting timing, but I am excited to join a passionate group of people dedicated to creating cultural experiences and exposure to the arts in a small town.” She is a Vicksburg resident and owns a company named Hawthorne Hive.

On the other hand, another talented board member has stepped up to fill an important role for the VCAC. Coming into the organization with a diverse background and a lot of passion, energy, creativity, a proven success record in program creation and execution for both nonprofit and corporate entities, Krista Grotelueschen, (pronounced Gro-tu-lu-cian) from Vicksburg, has stepped into the role of acting executive director for the Center. Krista says, “I am excited to be part of the VCAC and provide opportunities to bring our community together, especially at this time when we feel so disconnected. If our programming and efforts can bring a little hope and positivity to people, then we are successful!” She has stepped in for previous director Syd Bastos, who continues with her board president duties.

Together, along with the rest of the VCAC Board, de Boer and Grotelueschen have been instrumental in developing the VCAC’s latest program, “Your Square Matters” and the upcoming art kits. Though the VCAC wishes to resume in-person programming, they’re thankful for the chance to remain connected through their current program offerings.

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with happenings at the VCAC, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and their website,, or call (269) 200-2223.

A Budding Entrepreneur in Scotts

By Sue Moore

At age nine, Sofia Martin is getting started in the world of entrepreneurship with her dog-biscuit business. “I wanted to make some money. My mom’s friend, Alysse Thomas, gave me her recipe for making treats for dogs. I started making them last summer, then went around my neighborhood, looking for people with dogs who lived near me.”

The Martin family lives in the Greenfield Pointe neighborhood, near Tobey elementary school, which has a Scotts address.

Each week she makes a double batch of 180 treats, most to sell and some for her own dog. As a vendor at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market, Sofia estimates she will probably need to make two double batches and a single batch in order to have 500 to sell.

The price for 30 treats is $5, 15 biscuits for $3. The first sample is free. They are made out of peanut butter and pumpkin mix and dogs love them. “Alysse told me that pumpkin is good for dog’s digestion,” Martin explained.

Each batch takes her about an hour to prepare and an hour to bake. Her dad, Scott, helps her roll out the dough because it’s tough for her to do all by herself. Then she packages them in a plastic bag and starts her weekly deliveries in the neighborhood. Sales, she says are all by word of mouth.

Sofia has her own dog, Javi, to do a test run on. He came from a neighbor breeder of miniature golden doodles. “There were five little puppies as we walked by, nearly a year ago. It was a spur of the moment purchase and helped to inspire my new business,” she said.

While staying home, staying safe, Martin does her school work in the morning. She is a 4th grade student of Jane Harbener. “I’m doing pretty well in school; I love to read. In the afternoon I get to go outside and entertain my puppy. He got out and almost ran away. Gladly we got him back. Now I walk him on a leash as he just turned one a few days ago. He’s named Javi after one of my dad’s favorite Cubs baseball player, Javier Baez.”

Her dad is from Kalamazoo and grew up a Cubs fan. Her mom, Breanna, grew up on Austin Lake and knew Thomas from their grade school years at Tobey. She is a 2001 Vicksburg High School graduate and graduated from Western Michigan University in 2005. Her first job was teaching in Galesburg for five years. Now she is a math and reading instruction aide at Tobey when school is in session. Sofia has an older brother, Brayden, and younger brother, Nolan. Neither has any interest in her budding business venture, her mom says.

Sofia will turn 10 in June and is looking forward to being a vendor at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market when the season starts on June 5. “Live, Love, Bark” is the name of the business. “We got it by looking at the internet and just kind of came up with that wording,” Sofia says.

The Mill Works to Help Artists Affected by Quarantine

Rachel Toups.

By Sue Moore

The Mill at Vicksburg, committed to growing the existing arts and culture community in southwest Michigan, sponsors the Mill Music Residency and the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency. When pandemic forced the residencies to temporarily postpone their programming, they searched for alternatives that would allow them to continue serving artists and their community of local and online followers.

“The Mill is a cathedral for big ideas,” exclaimed musician and audio/visual producer Jonah Cohen from his home office in Seattle. He was the initial audio producer in 2019 for The Mill’s Musical Residency in Vicksburg.

Now the residencies are about to rise again in the virtual world.

Artists and performers are really hurting now with music venues, studios, and gallery spaces currently closed, according to John Kern, director of both residencies. The Vicksburg residencies have devised a way to help, he said. “Many arts organizations and artists have been deeply impacted by what’s happening right now. So, we solicited proposals from our former artists in which we offered to pay them a small stipend in exchange for 30 minutes of digital content.”

Chris Moore, The Mill at Vicksburg founder, green-lighted the effort to support two visual artists and two musicians. There were so many good ideas that it was decided to offer five people a contract.

“We are developing a collaboration between us and the artist by asking them, ‘How do we take what you have and put it to work?’” Cohen said. “We are attempting to take the current situation and make something positive out of it, creating enthusiasm and excitement by programming and celebrating art and culture and creativity for people who make and do these things. We’re attempting to program The Mill before it can even be opened.”

Cohen said the challenge is to figure out how to navigate paying artists to do 30-40-minute sets in a video, clean it up a bit, and put it out for the public to enjoy.

The plan is to have participants capture their video and audio from their home and/or studio and then have Cohen and Taylor Kallio, of Kalamazoo Aerial Media, assist the artists in achieving the effect they are looking for from off site, or while maintaining proper social distancing. While Cohen works with selected musicians, Kallio is working with the visual artists who are encouraged to consider creating content that discusses a technique, or a studio tour.

One of the artists, musician Rachel Toups, found a beautiful location to film. She was inspired to do a little more than just set up a phone in her living room, so she devised a way to make her work a bit more visually interesting.

“They are very excited to be able to pursue their art,” Kern said. Cohen and Kallio will help the artists map out their 30 minutes of material in pre-production meetings. The artists can then record the content, themselves or with the help of a producer, who will then complete the post-production work.

Once the 30-minute videos are complete, Kern will work with the producers, artists, and the Mill’s marketing team to create a plan with images and a timeline for release of the content. Promotional footage and images will be released to help push the work out on The Mill and the Prairie Ronde web and social media platforms. The current plan is to release the 30-minute blocks with links to both organizations’ YouTube channels.

Toups and visual artist Penelope Anstruther, are the first two participants chosen for this project. They were here in 2018 as resident artists.

Natalya Critchley, a visual artist currently living in Kalamazoo and previously Venezuela, was the second visual artist selected. Kevin Large is the other scheduled musician. He was in Vicksburg as the opening act for the Moondoggies, playing in the former Home Again consignment store to commemorate the launch of the Mill Music Residency in the fall of 2019.

How to get people to tune in? It will hinge on local interest and reliance on each artist’s social media network. For instance, Rachel Toups has approximately 1,000 Instagram followers while the Mill’s Facebook page has 800 to 900. This gives the Mill and Prairie Ronde an opportunity to cross promote with the artist in ways that could increase broader awareness and excitement for the content.

“It’s a new thing for us to experiment with, but this is a good time to try new things. Our participants are all in for it. We can’t know what the audience will look like, or what the reaction to the content will be, but this has the potential to help some people out while offering a nice diversion,” Kern said. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to help out in some small way.”

The sites will be pushing out content starting in June, according to Kern.

Sustainability is a Priority at the Mill

By Rob Peterson

Progress on refurbishing The Mill at Vicksburg was ongoing in the fall and winter. Then the coronavirus struck and work came to a screeching halt. In the last few weeks of May, activity has resumed and Jackie Koney , chief operating officer, shared the progress with the Vicksburg Village Council at its May Zoom meeting.

The exterior brick work was on track until late March, but the Frederick Construction team is confident that it will still be able to complete the work by the spring of 2021. The brickwork is being done by masonry experts, each of whom has at least 15 years of experience. It has not been easy to find experienced tradespeople locally, but five of the current 10 brick layers were hired from the area, Koney reported.

“They are basically touching every inch of that building and it’s a very big building,” said Koney. “That takes a very long time and their attention to detail, their care and their craftsmanship is just astounding.”

To replace damaged areas, they have salvaged 80,000 bricks from a demolished Chicago racetrack, which has so far kept them from having to recreate bricks from new material. Original bricks that are in good shape but not good enough to use in the reconstruction process, are being gifted to former mill employees. They have also sold some of those bricks, with proceeds going to local charities.

Not every building is being saved, however. Some of the structures are unneeded or irrelevant to the historic preservation efforts and are being demolished. The remnants of one building in the east wing that was damaged by an arsonist, for example, were removed and will become an outdoor beer garden. The remaining part of that building will likely be an indoor taproom that opens to the beer garden in good weather.

Removing buildings does not mean that materials are going to the landfill, according to the Mill team. Rubble from the site, including concrete and unusable bricks, will be ground and used for roads and retaining walls onsite.

They have also been creatively repurposing portions of the Mill that don’t fit into the overall plan. Parts of the pole buildings along Highway Street were given to an Amish family to be relocated to a farm near Coldwater, and beaters from the pulp vats will be displayed as artifacts from the property’s original use as a paper mill.

Inside, the environmental remediation process continues. While much of the work was completed by the county before developer Chris Moore purchased the property, lead-based paint remained. Instead of undertaking the expense of testing every painted portion of the building, they are assuming all the paint contains lead and removing it all throughout the building.

“The upper levels of the east wing are as stunning as I expected,” said Koney, “but what surprised me is the finishing room. I just never thought of it as a pretty building, but now that the brick is exposed and the ceiling is natural wood and the steel beams are exposed, it’s just gorgeous.”

“The walls and beams and ceilings have been painted for a very long time,” continues Koney. “I’m eager for mill employees to see it in its new/old state.”

The Mill is several years away from being complete; the goal is to open the first part of the building to the public in late 2022. Before then, however, former mill employees may have the chance to preview the work at what has become the Mill Family Reunion, Koney said.

The Mill at Vicksburg will include a number of sustainable features on the outside as well. They are intended to create an enduring place for residents and visitors to enjoy when it is complete.

Outside, the team from the Mill has worked with Dr. Noni Heikes… to create an “edible forest” that so far includes apple, cherry, and pear trees. The fruit from these trees will be available for visitors to pick and enjoy, and the hope is that they will be able to donate fruit to local food service programs.

They intend to continue planting nut trees, fruit trees, and berry bushes, as well as companion plants to attract pollinators and repel pests. “This is an ongoing legacy project meant to be a lasting gift to the community,” said Heikes. “It’s also a great applied learning experience for students.”

To complement the trees, Heikes’ class received a grant from Midwest Energy to start a beekeeping operation that will make use of the 16 acres of pollinator habitat at the property. “The hive will have a plexiglass observation panel” said Heikes, “and the collection system will allow us to collect honey without opening the hive.”

In keeping with the goal of being a good steward of the environment, the Mill team has kept the pollinator habitat pesticide-free for the past three years.

Groundbreaking for the Area’s First Miracle Field

By Sue Moore

A Miracle Field was just a gleam in Dave Olson’s eyes until May 20, when he put a shovel in the ground to turn the first piece of sod in The Dome’s field in Schoolcraft. He was accompanied by a cohort of volunteers who also believed that every kid deserves the chance to play baseball, especially those with special needs.

This group from many different parts of Kalamazoo County has raised $750,000 of the estimated $1.1 million cost. A Miracle Field is a custom-designed field with a cushioned, rubberized surface to help prevent injuries. It will feature wheelchair accessible dugouts and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair users or visually impaired players. A buddy assists each Miracle League player onto the field and during the game cheers them on, and makes sure their time is enjoyable and safe while giving the players’ parents a break to enjoy the game. It is associated with a larger group of Miracle League fields across the United States.

“About two years ago, Olsen, a Vicksburg business owner, was in Grand Rapids and stumbled across a Miracle League game,” said Jud Hoff, president of the Southwest Michigan Miracle League (SMML) and co-owner of The Dome Sports Center. “Dave dreamed that we could build a Miracle Field in Kalamazoo, so he reached out to Bill Deming, the former Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Portage. Bill approached Josh Baird, my business partner, and asked if we’d heard of a Miracle Field. We had just purchased some property by The Dome on US-131, and we weren’t sure what we were going to do with it. So, Bill took us up to see a Miracle League game. About five minutes into it, I turned to Josh and said, ‘We have to do this.’”

Baird, SMML’s vice president, remembers that day well. “The joy and excitement on the kids’ faces and the difference that the Miracle League was making in the community was evident within minutes. So we decided to build a Miracle Field of our own to serve the kids in southwest Michigan who could benefit from this field. Our mission is to create an environment where every kid, regardless of their abilities, has the chance to play sports. We still have about $300,000 in fundraising to go, but we wanted to get started building that field of dreams when we did the groundbreaking in May. The Miracle Field will do so much for the Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and southwest Michigan area, bringing equity, unity and a community spirit that is so important right now.”

Olsen is the League Commissioner and on the SMML board. He talks about the time he and his wife, Kim, were watching their grandson play a game in Grand Rapids and saw a Miracle League game on the field next to them. “I saw this dad pushing a kid in a wheelchair to first base. I can’t describe the look on that dad’s and that kid’s face. Pure joy. I wanted to bring that joy here.” He said to Kim, ‘Why not us? Let’s do this.’”

Olsen said that so many kids are lucky to be able to play a sport. “They take it for granted that they can play. The Miracle League players don’t have the same luck that the other kids do. It takes them hours of prep just to get to the field. It’s not right that there’s this whole group of kids getting left out of sports. The Miracle League is going to change that.”

Lisa Anspaugh and Wade Rutkoskie, both of Schoolcraft, also serve on the League’s board. Anspaugh came to the group because she had a huge passion for baseball and softball. She and her husband played in college and coached their daughter and sons. “I’m so blessed to have able-bodied children, and if I can give kids the chance to experience the game we love so much, I have to do it. I’m so proud to be a part of the Miracle League and bring it to our community.”

For Rutkoskie, it’s all about giving back to the Schoolcraft community that he grew up in and still lives in today. “I’ve been a Little League coach for a long time, and there have been kids who wanted to play but it wasn’t safe for them. I felt horrible that they couldn’t play. As a school board member, I know that we have a fair number of kids here with special needs, and it will be great to serve them. When I saw the bond between the Miracle League players and their buddies, I couldn’t describe the joy. They were just playing baseball, but it was so much more than that.”

His wife, Cari Rutkowski, is on the board and handles marketing and public relations. “She does a great job at connecting all the dots and is the leader that makes all the other people look so good,” Baird said.

For Cari, it’s about making sure the organization is aligned with the goals and values of the Miracle League. She said, “It’s so important that people understand the focus and meaning behind the mission of this organization. It’s a true celebration of athletes of all abilities and ensuring they have the opportunity to play ball. For their parents, it’s experiencing the joy of watching their child play and being part of a team.” In Kalamazoo County alone, there are 4,600 kids who could benefit from the Miracle League. Kids in counties throughout southwest Michigan are welcome to play.

Hoff, Olsen, Baird, Rutkowski and Anspaugh have attracted plenty of help from board members that include Chris Sargent, head of United Way, Josh Will, Dr. Luchara Wallace, Eric Guerin, and Billy Gernon, Western Michigan University’s head baseball coach.

Teenagers have also gotten into raising funds. Bryce Hoff and Grace Cheatham from Portage Central and Jacob Baird, a Vicksburg High School senior, combined with students from Schoolcraft and Portage to form a Youth Board for the Miracle Field. They put canisters out in their schools and did fundraising events to help swell the coffers. They are in striking distance of their $10,000 goal.

Donations have come from far and wide but the SMML still needs funds to finish building the Miracle Field. To help support the cause and bring this dream to life, visit

Schoolcraft and Vicksburg Libraries Make Plans to Reopen

By Sue Moore

Having a good book to read during quarantine time might be coming soon to the Vicksburg and Schoolcraft libraries. Both have shut their doors for over eight weeks and it’s a cinch that folks are missing their libraries, said Schoolcraft Library Director Pam Ballet.

“We are planning to open in phases, with each phase being flexible in length and procedure according to new information that is available,” Ballet said. “We will be starting with curbside service, then phasing into lobby service and ending with reopening of most services. Within each phase there will be requirements as well as safety features in place. We will have the reopening plan available on our website as soon as it’s approved. We are also planning a summer reading program, but all registrations, data recording and activities will be virtual through our site, Facebook and YouTube. Information will be on our website in the next few weeks.”

In Vicksburg, District Library Director Eric Hansen has been working to provide safe ways to re-open when Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders expire. “It has been important to listen to the numerous teleconferences that are available provided by the Kalamazoo Health and Community Services Department, the Southwest Michigan Library Cooperative, and the Library of Michigan. We are also considering information provided by the Michigan Library Association, The American Library Association, and the government of the state of Michigan.

“Planning has been challenging, since new executive orders and information have been emerging every week,” Hansen said. “However, I have created a list of options that include legal requirements and best practices provided by the organizations above. These are meant to conform to mandatory workplace safety requirements and to protect the health and safety of returning employees and patrons. These options will be a topic of discussion during our next board meeting, and we expect there will be some visible changes to our library services during the months following our re-opening.”

“As Eric expressed, we are anxious to serve our community and see our patrons again. The safety of our staff and community is on our hearts and we are working to reopen to serve safely,” Ballet said.

Making Masks: The Home Industry Grows

By Linda Lane

Nearly 40,000 masks have been made by area residents sewing them in craft rooms in their homes. And that’s probably an undercount: Many other masks –thousands of them – haven’t been factored into that number.

One group on Facebook, called SWMI Protective Gear Project, counts more than 1,800 members. As of May 29, the group had collected and distributed 37,714 face masks in Kalamazoo County. Its goal is 50,000 masks.

Another community group with Connections Community Church in Schoolcraft, a smaller group with only 10 women, has made nearly 1,000 masks. The group was started by Lori Hart, who works at Bronson Hospital, at a time when hospitals were so short on personal protection equipment that hospital personnel were given just one mask and required to reuse it until it was visibly soiled.

Hart knew they needed more masks and went to pick up fabric to start making masks over that very first weekend when the country was shocked by the invasion of the coronavirus. Hart took some into work where people loved the homemade masks. She put a message out to the church and more women offered to help.

One local quilter, Debra Youngs, has made more than 250 masks personally. She has donated them to hospitals and other places. She has taken them into stores with her and handed them out to people without a mask in a gesture of kindness for others who needed the masks. One manufacturing facility purchased 30 masks from Youngs. She donated the proceeds to “12 Baskets Food Pantry” on Portage Road.

The time and expenses involved with mask making can vary widely depending on mask design, sewing ability, filters, or even others’ assistance. Youngs enlisted the help of three friends who couldn’t sew but were willing to iron fabric into ties which she used in sewing the masks. It helped dramatically cut her time in producing the masks and allowed her to crank out 3-4 masks an hour. She cut up 25 yards of muslin fabric in 2-inch strips into ties to use with masks which four ties. Youngs calculated that she could get approximately eight masks from one yard of fabric, not including a lining for the masks.

The generosity of all of those producing, donating, providing and simply giving to help others through these dire days of coronavirus is an inspiration for our kind community. It is yet another example of the goodness which permeates southwest Michigan.

MSU Students Consult on Vicksburg Trail

By Rob Peterson

A group of Michigan State University students has suggested changes to the Vicksburg trail system that they say would add an element of health, vitality and walkability to the community.

They were invited by the Village and a team from The Mill at Vicksburg to study the non-motorized transportation plan, which is part of the Village’s 2015 Master Plan. South County News spoke with two students who were part of the five-member team: graduating senior Carley Gruzin and graduating master’s degree student Dana Dake.

“There are so many rural areas in Michigan with abandoned properties,” said Dake, editor of the final report. “Vicksburg was appealing because the developer of the Mill is interested in integrating its plans into the community.”

The Mill was one of four key community assets identified in a survey created by the students. The survey was posted on the Village Facebook page only briefly because “We were only allowed 100 responses, and we reached that limit very quickly,” said Gruzin. The other three assets identified by the community were the industrial park, the downtown and the Historic Village, which Gruzin called “underutilized.”

The goal of the report was to identify ways to connect these assets through non-motorized travel. “We want people walking around,” said Gruzin, “so people can experience Vicksburg fully.”

According to Dake, one interesting trend is that for the first time the younger and older generations are both seeking the same thing: places that are walkable and bikeable. Vicksburg already has a non-motorized transportation plan and community support, making the town ripe for attracting visitors and new residents if the plans are put in place.

The students recommended that the design of the non-motorized connections be influenced by a national model called Complete Streets. The model calls for creating safer ways to cross streets; increasing accessibility for the elderly and those with disabilities; and improving a sense of place for those on foot.

The students made several suggestions to modify Vicksburg’s existing non-motorized transportation plan.

One of these recommendations is to direct bicycle and pedestrian traffic along Main Street; the current plan is to add bike lanes on Michigan and Kalamazoo Avenues. “It’s important that the path takes people through downtown,” said Dake. “One of the goals of expanding the paths is to spur economic activity, so we want to lead people past the vibrant downtown shops.”

Another suggestion is to convert the bicycle lanes along Prairie Street into wider bicycle-pedestrian paths that are protected from street traffic. A buffer to the street could be accomplished by installing physical barriers, but landscaping might be a less expensive way to achieve this goal. Signage and pavement markings would help keep bicyclists and pedestrians from colliding.

The students recommend that a second route from the industrial park should run along the Little League fields and up to Sunset Lake Park. At key points such as Sunset Lake, landscaped seating areas with benches and local art would encourage people to take a break and enjoy the views.

Users of the trail would be able to find these points of interest thanks to a wayfinding signage system that would include a logo to help people identify the trail and navigate the system easily.

Probably the most significant recommendation is the addition of a bog path through Clark Park. The idea is to construct a wide, raised path that would connect the trail along Prairie Street to the Mill via an inviting alternative route. Similar paths are already a part of the trail system in Portage, and they can help to provide safe passage over wet areas such as Clark Park.

The most important suggestion, though, is to get started. “Use the existing infrastructure,” said Dake. “Simply adding signage and crosswalks will help improve walkability and safety.”

Offering options for low-cost, quick improvements is one of the requirements placed on them by their professors. The students were advised by Professor Zenia Kotval, program director of the Urban and Regional Planning program at Michigan State University, who met with the students weekly via Zoom.

Even though a professor was advising them, the students were required to develop their own recommendations. “We tell them that they can’t recommend what they want to do, but rather what the data suggests should be done,” said Kotval.

Data for the Vicksburg project included the community survey as well as information purchased from ESRI, a company that tracks demographic and economic indicators. They also reviewed case studies of other communities which have implemented similar strategies.

The report, titled “Connecting Assets in Vicksburg, MI” has been submitted to the Village and the team at the Mill. According to Kotval, it will be useful not only in thinking through Vicksburg’s non-motorized transportation plan; the data included in the plan can be used to apply for grants.

“The students each earned a 4.0 grade on the Vicksburg report,” said Kotval, “and it’s the only report this year that we used to apply for a Michigan Planning Association award.”

Vicksburg Village Hall to Shorten Office Hours

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg’s Village Council approved a shorter work week beginning June 1, when village offices were scheduled to re-open.

Village Manager Jim Mallery recommended the change based upon data collected over the past three years. He mentioned staff cut-backs that needed to take place as part of budget reductions the village will need to make as revenues shrink due to COVID-19-related issues. He anticipates state revenue sharing to municipalities will impact the 2020-2021 budget even further once all the numbers are in.

The new hours will be Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with Friday open by appointment with either he or Alex Lee available.

“This is an easy vote,” said Trustee Rick Holmes. “The recommendation is steeped in data.” By keeping track of the number of customers who come in each day, the staff was able to hone in on the busiest times of each day. It turns out that Fridays were the lowest usage hours of the week. A plastic barrier for the customer service desk will be installed before the office officially opens on June 1.

The council also accepted the manager’s recommendation to tear down and rebuild a Department of Public Works pole barn that is 60 years old and leaking badly on the road salt stored in it. Approval was also sought on the purchase of body cameras for the police department at a cost of $40,000 for five cameras and in car connectivity. It approved a grant application to the Vicksburg Foundation for half the cost of the cameras. Lastly a new police cruiser was a 2020 capital expense item that will be put off at least until January 2021, pending the impact of budget reductions across the board.

Mallery also announced that he had reached an operating agreement with the Vicksburg Historical Society that was to be presented for passage at the council’s June 1 regular meeting.

The Council met twice for the same agenda in May. It conducted its business at the originally-scheduled May 18 meeting, then learned that a Zoom link enabling the public to view it wasn’t working due to a software issue.

It met again at noon, May 20. “We need to be transparent for all of our actions with the public. Since the link was inoperative, we did the meeting over to allow any citizen comments and to record the official votes by the council and stay true to the state’s Open Meetings act,” Mallery said.