Board Gets Peek at Harrison Highlights Reel
Projects, Persistence, Quality Get Nod of Gratitude
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver
HARRISON – At its April meeting, the Clare County Board of Commissioners heard an Economic Development presentation by Lori Phelps, Clare County Community Services Director. Phelps described to the Board the many projects which have been undertaken and completed in Harrison and those which are still underway: projects which have come to fruition and those now coming to fruition through the diligence and grant writing skills of Phelps and Tracey Connelly, Harrison city manager and clerk.
Phelps was excited to announce to the Board that a Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant which had been applied for a year ago for the benefit of the City of Harrison had been approved
“It was for a nature trail,” she said. “And a couple days ago we heard we got the grant.”
Phelps explained that writing a grant for a municipality paints a broader picture of economic development, and chose to present that development using only the example of the City of Harrison.
“There’s a lot more to it than just writing grants,” she said. “And sometimes it takes years.”
Phelps started with the presentation she gave to the DNR which included many aspects of what has been transpiring in the Harrison area aimed at economic development, aspects which Phelps said she has not only been part of , but which she also is very proud of.
The DNR grant was aimed at a proposed nature trail through the City of Harrison, a trail which has been officially designated Phelps Parkway in honor of Steve Phelps, former Department of Public Works superintendent. The total project cost for the DNR grant was about $450,000 and the City matching funds would be $148,000.
“We had a strategic purpose, a holistic purpose which began about 2010,” she said. “When the Michigan Health Rankings Report by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was released, they actually named Clare County – at the time – the unhealthiest county in the state of Michigan.”
Phelps said the ranking included health outcomes, health factors and socio-economic factors.
“That report spurred a grass roots initiative that I was part of, to change the statistics and redirect efforts from trying to bring in manufacturing [perceived as necessary for economic growth] and an industrial park to focusing on our local, natural assets as a means to not only better community health, but also to share our natural assets to generate economic change and growth in our community,” Phelps said.
She said that with the help of the Rising Tide Initiative, a team was put together comprised of local stakeholders and a target scope was developed of three specific focus areas aimed at improving the quality of life in Harrison.
“We started with rebranding and marketing the Harrison community,” Phelps said. “The marketing hasn’t really started yet, but we did do rebranding – working not only on the perception of others around us, but the self-perception. Place-based asset building, which is identifying all our local assets in the Harrison area, such as Wilson State Park, Clare County Fairground, focusing on the fact that Harrison is the county seat, 20 lakes in 20 minutes, and so on.”
She said it also was desired that focus be on modernization of the education system, thus making it more attractive to families. Phelps said she also was part of the initiative to help the school bond pass, noting that the official groundbreaking on the school project was slated for the following day.
“That’s exciting as well,” she said.
Phelps said focus for the City of Harrison keyed on all the things offered around this area, including the beautiful, natural setting with many outdoor activities, such as fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, trailheads, hiking, biking, horseback riding, off-road vehicles, and Harrison’s longstanding tradition of hunting.
“So we started focusing on those areas, and then we started doing grants,” she said.
She said streetscaping and traffic calming was done with a Downtown Dig grant in the amount of $598,000. MEDC funding was secured for the Town Square project at the corner of Main and Second streets which will include a band shell/entertainment pavilion, town clock, digital events sign, splash pad, changing rooms and restrooms. She said improvements to remove blight were done through grant monies, and that a play structure at City Park had been accomplished with the help of a many volunteers
Other grant funding came through $1.4 million from USDA/MEDC for the Harrison City Market which has a potentially four-seasons farmers market, and retail incubator for businesses with a commercial kitchen which is being leased.
SAW [Stormwater, Asset management, Wastewater] grant for almost $600,000 which did an inventory of the condition of the city’s storm water and waste water lines, which included video auditing of the entire city.
The big horse in the race is the ICE [Infastructure Capacty Enhancement] grant which brought the city more than $2 million. The ICE bids to replace some lift stations and some water main were opened in early April and came in a bit under $2 million.
Additional pieces of the economic pie include a Wellhead Protection grant and a $600,000 grant for Safe Routes to Schools which put in sidewalks and paved pathways in and around the area.
“So all of that is pulling together for the economic development,” Phelps said.
She went on to describe an economic partnership between the City of Harrison and Hayes Township for a bicycle and pedestrian master plan which received a grant for $14,500 along with a grant for $57,000 that did the master plan for the City of Harrison and a $17,500 grant for the recreation master plan for the City of Harrison.
“All of those had to be done and completed to be able to continue on with other grants, such as the DNR Trust Fund grant,” Phelps said.
She went on to describe the nature trail project as including walking trails, bike trails, ramps and jumps for kids, all of which will begin near the ball fields on the south side of Harrison City Park. The pathway will continue from there through the woods and around behind the high school/middle school where it will connect to the Safe Routes to School path, then continue on to eventually connect with Hayes Township. Phelps said there is a possible grant which could help fund a proposed bike path which would join the city with Hayes Township.
“This is a really big deal to connect the walk-ability for the township and the city,” she said. “In order for us to be designated as an elder-friendly community, we have to be walkable, and this is one of the things we have to do.”
Phelps said natural resources do enhance economic development in the area, and that incorporating place-making strategies aimed at leveraging Harrison’s unique small town assets will help strengthen community image and sense of place. It also will support non-centralized economic growth throughout the entire community, as well as promote health and wellness, protect natural and cultural assets, connect parks with non-motorized trails accessible to all residents, provide recreational experience and foster educational opportunities because it is connected with the school.
“So basically, it’s going through the trees, it’s pretty awesome and I’m pretty excited about it,” Phelps said.
Phelps said that, in a nutshell, those were the things she had worked on over the past few years as economic development.
Don Kolander, who serves on the Harrison City Council as well as being Director of Parks and Recreation, offered commendation for Phelps and her work.
“I just want to commend Lori, Tracey Beadle Connelly and Mayor Stocking,” Kolander said. “This is something we’ve been working on, and I just can’t wait for it to happen. It’s a project that we’re really excited about, like Lori is. And I just want to commend her for her hard work and the rest of the staff at the city level. Great job, Lori.”