By Julie Vaughan
The decision to reject a $179,440 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for the Mill Creek Lake Park Trails Project came on a 4-1 vote by the Canton City Council.
A heated discussion erupted over the newly proposed approximate five-mile path, which would have included granite and dirt trails, as well as signs.
In August 2012, the city council voted 4-1 to move forward with having Luck Design Team draw up the plans for a multi-phase project around Mill Creek Lake.
The plans were submitted and of the 72 projects proposed in the state, Mill Creek was one of 33 recreational trail projects approved for the 80/20 matching grant. The city received word they were getting the grant late last month.
During the council meeting, however, council member Cary Hilliard made a motion the city reject the grant for the Lake Park Trails Project at Mill Creek Lake, which was seconded by council member Jerry Yarbrough.
In August, Yarbrough was the lone council member who voted against having the design team draw up the plans for Mill Creek Lake, which cost the city $5,600.
Canton resident Mindy Tatum spoke in favor of the park trails project saying she thought it was “a wonderful idea.”
“I would be very disappointed if this council saw fit to turn down this $200,000 grant that only requires the city council to put down $45,000 with half in in-kind services,” Tatum said.
Agreeing with her, Bob Moore said one of the things Canton gains from being the Walking Capital of Texas is receiving grants.
“If we let this grant go, we’ve set back everything we have done for all of this time,” Moore said.
“If we set this back, it sets our county back unbelievably. I pray that you don’t use this as an economic, or political clout. Please, please put this through. You are going to be the laughing stalk of America if you don’t,” Moore added.
Steven Cash said he was not opposed to walking trails, but said he wanted to see the city finish the trails at Cherry Creek Park with lighting.
“We have a lot of different families that come there at all hours of the day and night,” Cash said. “I’m not sure that if you approved the walking trail out at the lake that the families could be there that they could over here (at Cherry Creek).”
He requested the city use the funds, set aside for the Mill Creek Lake grant project, go toward the Cherry Creek Park.
Winston Douthit asked about the liability at Mill Creek Lake and spoke of concerns for people’s safety due to the snakes out at the lake.
Mayor Rick Lawrence then read a letter from Van Zandt County Judge Rhita Koches in support of the project and noted that Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Carroll volunteered the use of his equipment in preparation of the trails. This would be used as part of the in-kind match.
Additionally, Lawrence read a letter from Canton ISD Superintendent Jay Tullos who spoke of the district’s support of the project and how the trails would be useful for the cross country teams as they train.
Council member Shawn Stewart, who has been the driving force of the project on the council and serves on the parks committee for the city, noted that for about six years Cherry Creek Park received “a lot of attention.”
“Then to a certain point it got to the state it is now. The parks committee disbanded and the volunteers went about their business,” Stewart said.
“What sparked my idea about a running trail around Mill Creek has nothing to do with the fact that I live at Lake Meadows…One day I was talking to Lonny Cluck (city manager) about the fact that periodically the city has to come out to the lake and clear debris and create a better drainage for water that comes off the field at Lake Meadows,” Stewart said. “He said we probably needed to be doing that at least once a year.”
Stewart said what is then created is a walking trail. So the city had found a grant that was available.
He went on to say that the city did not want lights at the park because they did not want people there after dark.
“I am all for your project,” council member Jerry Yarbrough said. “I think it would be great if the city had the money to do it, but this trail right now is a money pit.”
“I am all for a park and running trail,” Yarbrough continued. “But we don’t have any money to spare.”
He noted there would be no restroom facility or drinking water for visitors at the park.
“I have reviewed this and checked into this…We have enough walking and running areas in this town now,” council member Marilyn Burrage said. “…I love parks. I love everything to do with parks, but we have enough of some things some times.”
Hilliard spoke up and said he felt the focus should be on the 80 acres of Cherry Creek Park.
“Before we start a new park, we need to continue with the park we have,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard spoke of other unexpected projects that could arise in the future, as well as the cost to maintain the park and the need to be able to provide security at a new park facility.
Council members Hilliard, Yarbrough, Burrage and Elisa Heard voted for rejecting the park trails project, and Stewart voted against the motion.
Following his motion, Stewart encouraged the citizens to attend future budget workshops and noted there was money for the park project in the city budget.
“I hope you like what they are feeding you because it is a bunch of crap,” he said.
Park Project Rejected 4-1
By Julie Vaughan