The Rebirth of Mill Creek
Dexter's growth helps a downtown park
Dexter village's astounding 74 percent population increase in the last census--from 2,338 in 2000 to 4,067 in 2010--made it the fastest-growing community in the state. Yet even as new subdivisions sprouted in former farmland around the historic village, a new riverfront park was being created downtown.
The creation of Mill Creek Park goes hand in hand with the growth on the edges of the village: during ten years of rapid growth, the village's general fund budget has more than doubled, from $1.6 to $3.3 million. Dexter invested some of that money in the four-acre project just south of the new Main Street Bridge.
Allison Bishop, the village's community development manager, recounts the project's twenty-year gestation. "In the early nineties, there was talk about removing the dam [below the old bridge], and by the mid-nineties, it was decided to remove [it]. But there wasn't any money to do it at the time, so there wasn't any push until the Main Street Bridge got too dilapidated to use. And as part of replacing it, the city worked with the county road commission to remove the dam as well.
"The dam came out in 2008," continues Bishop, who started with the village in 2001. "We applied for grant funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Department of Natural Resources Waterways Infrastructure project in April 2009. We were awarded in December 2009 and signed contracts in June 2011. We broke ground in August 2011, and we're scheduled to complete work in fall of 2012, possibly sooner."
When it was dammed, Bishop says, Mill Creek was "the back door to the village. The pond was partially filled with sediment, there were invasive species, and it was surrounded by not-high quality trees and shrubs. You didn't think about it, and you didn't look at it. Now it's going to be a real statement entrance. It'll have plazas with vistas along Jeffords. There'll be a walking park, rain gardens, fishing and observation decks, two
boat launches--one above and one below the bridge--and an amphitheater with stone outcroppings for seating there and around the park--and all this in an area that has not been accessible for one hundred years."
The total cost will be $1.8 million, including $450,000 from the Trust Fund, $48,000 from Waterways Infrastructure, and $550,000 from the village's parks, landscaping, and general funds--an amount made possible in large part by those increased property tax revenues.
The rest of the landscape northwest of downtown--the American Legion and Knights of Columbus halls and the A&W Root Beer Drive-in--will remain the same after the park's creation. But the riverscape may change further in years to come. "The village does own property on the west bank to past the K of C Hall," says Bishop. "It's all wetlands now, and maybe someday we can continue a trail system towards Chelsea."
[Originally published in June, 2012.]