Take me to the river: Council debates new kayak launch location

‘I just can’t image anyone in a wheelchair or a kayak when that helicopter comes down.’— resident William Kazmierski


Sunday Times Newspapers



WYANDOTTE — The Recreation Department, in conjunction with Riverside Kayak Connection, has applied for an additional grant for a barrier-free kayak launch.


A $40,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan already has been awarded to the department. Last week, officials applied for a grant through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Land and Water Conservation Fund


The grant would cover $75,000 and would require the city to invest $95,500, which would come from the Engineering Department’s Tax-Increment Financing Authority rollover funds from last year.


The launch will be handicapped accessible and is meant to give everyone the opportunity to participate in recreation activities. It will include a transfer station to allow disabled people, along with anyone else, to get in and out of the water more easily.


Though the launch has been in the works for several months, the city still cannot decide on its permanent location.


Original plans called for placing the launch at BASF Waterfront Park, but lack of space due to the harbor line prompted officials to consider new locations. They then decided upon city-owned waterfront property at the end of Walnut, east of several privately owned boathouses near Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, as the new location.


However, during a public hearing at Monday’s City Council meeting, residents and council members alike voiced concerns about the location.


Parking, restrooms, lack of space, distance from downtown and the location’s proximity to the hospital’s helicopter landing pad were among the concerns.


Councilman Johnny Kolakowski said he didn’t believe there would be enough parking in the area to sustain the site.


“I know all of those people who have the boathouse have parking places guaranteed to them,” he said. “But what if we have 100 kayakers show up? Where would we put them?”


The Engineering Department was given permission to use the hospital parking lot, as well as the bathrooms.


“I support this project 100 percent, but I have a few concerns,” Councilman Todd Browning said. “I think it would benefit not only those who use the launch, but our local businesses as well, if the launch was located closer to downtown.”


He then suggested the launch could be constructed in Bishop Park.


“The biggest drawback from Bishop Park is the vertical distance between the land and water level,” City Engineer Mark Kowalewski said. “People would need another lift to get down the dock.


“Anything can be done, but it would probably be more costly to do at Bishop Park.”


Residents, some of whom own boathouses, voiced their concerns about parking and kayakers’ safety.


“There is a lot of wind down there,” said resident William Kazmierski. “I just can’t image anyone in a wheelchair or a kayak when that helicopter comes down.”


He added that the parking lot behind the boathouses is full almost continuously from May to October.


“Literally there is no parking. I don’t see how this is going to work,” Kazierski said. “They are going to be parking there right in our corner where the launch is. It is already congested.”


Resident Ronald Welch asked the council who would be responsible if someone got hurt when the helicopter lands. Nobody was sure.


“Kayaks aren’t the most stable crafts, and putting them next to the helicopter pad is just a nightmare,” he said. He added that using the hospital’s bathrooms would be unreasonable, because they are located almost two blocks away.


City Clerk William Griggs opposed the location on Walnut, saying it was not practical.


“Kayaking in the area of the disabled is growing leaps and bounds,” he said. “It is a gigantic sport that is gaining a lot of ground on the worldwide basis.


“(The location) is just too far away to be practical.”


After further discussion, the council decided the grant application should not include the Walnut site, but could not come up with another definite alternative.


Ultimately members passed a resolution to write the grant for an existing kayak launch on Pine Street at the edge of the river. However, it contains a stipulation that the location could be changed after further consideration if the grant money is received.