Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ada Trail follow-up article

This article, also written exclusively for my journalism class at GVSU, was a follow-up to the Ada trails article, and chronicled the town hall meeting gauging feedback from the townspeople about the proposed trail project. It became quite heated and controversial, so I like to use this as an example of putting an interesting spin on a town hall meeting.

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Phase two of trail project sparks controversy among residents

By Matt Marn

Tempers flared as Ada Township residents became divided down the center of Knapp Street as residents came to a trail planning meeting Thursday evening.

The dispute developed when the updated plans showed the non-vehicular bike and pedestrian trail to be placed on the South side of Knapp Street, while on the ballot in 2006, the proposal for the millage allegedly displayed the trail on the North side.

Several residents argued it was put on the ballot that way so it would pass, and then the township pulled a bait-and-switch.

Ada Township resident Tracy Baij said the township should have proposed a general 15-mile trail so everyone would have “equal skin in the game.”

“You pitted those who stood to gain against those who stood to lose, and they outnumbered them,” Baij told the township board.

Township trustee John Westra said the key thing to focus on is all of the trail committee meetings were published and were available on the website for community members’ knowledge.

The committee originally outlined the path of the trail and when they had to project it, it chose the North side of Knapp, Westra said.

“None of our information said it would stay on that side,” he said. “The purpose [of that projection] was not to determine what side of the road the trail would go on, but which street and communities would be served.”

Landowners also expressed concern over easements, which Ada Township is in the process of discussing with residents whose property will be affected by the trail.

“We always want to have a project like this to take place in an area of support,” Westra said. “We also depend on easements, or agreements between the township and the property owner. These are all voluntary.”

Westra said the township could put the trail all on the trail’s right-of-way, the section of the land closest to the street. This 33 feet from the center line of the road toward the property is not owned by the property owner. However, if the township obtains permission from landowners to go further into their property to make the trail, it would be more attractive, he said.

While some residents are opposed to the plan, Bill and Donna Havenga are in favor of the trail because it would provide a safer route for community members during their walks.

“It happens to be on the other side of the road, but we’d be for it if it was on our side,” said Donna Havenga. “My husband walks. He’s had two open-heart surgeries, so he walks a mile or more every day.”

Havenga said she thinks it could benefit the community greatly because it will allow residents to walk from one house to another, which would be nice.

“If it will bring us together as neighbors, it would be great, but I don’t think it will,” she said.

Westra said this new trail would allow residents a location or safe route to use in their efforts to live a healthier lifestyle on either foot or bicycle, as well as connect the community.

“My main worry, however, is safety,” he said. “We have to make sure the people are safe, especially children and young people. Whenever the trails cross roads you have a potential for problems. We need those areas to be as few and safe as possible.”

Ada Trail budget article

This article has never been published; I wrote this article in a journalism class at Grand Valley State University in March 2008 as an undergraduate student. As the class assignments, we were given a "beat" township to cover locally, to write stories covering the affairs of the township.

I was given Ada township, and I started by going to introduce myself around the township offices and looking through their budget. When I found a special budget for building a trail along the side of the road, I decided to take a closer look.

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Ada Township enters phase two of trail project

By Matt Marn

Ada Township residents will soon be one step closer to enjoying a new trail winding around their community.

Thanks to nearly $1.5 million approved for trail construction, with $1.2 million going toward phase one of Ada Township’s non-vehicular plan, the community has already put the existing trails to good use.

“The trail millage passed a few years back, and we decided to bond [the projects] all together,” said Deborah Ensing Millhuff, Ada Township clerk. “If you do it trail by trail, piece by piece, then by the time you’re done, the first part has to be redone. Most of the people want it done, but the controversy is on what side of the road it should be done.”

Township Planner Jim Ferro said whenever a trail is built, residents have an opinion on what side of the road it should be placed. But either way, he said it will do a lot of good.

“It’s been needed for probably ten years, and it’s been in the works for five years or more,” Ferro said. “There was a great amount of citizen interest in having safe and healthier means to get around.”

Ferro said the plan’s timetable, one phase per year, began in 2007.

During the first phase, the township placed a trail on Grand River Drive from Fulton Street to Knapp Street. In the second phase – scheduled to start in early summer and finish in the fall – the township will lay a trail on Knapp Street from the Grand River to Honey Creek Avenue. The final phase, scheduled in 2009, will include Honey Creek Avenue, Conservation Street, McCabe Avenue and Bailey Drive. The trails are designed to form a loop throughout the community.

Diane Pratt, Ada Township treasurer, said the community has had numerous trails in Ada Township, and most citizens respond favorably.

“It’s a safer way to walk and bike,” Pratt said. “It’s been a plan of the township to link the trails up, so they aren’t just trails that lead to nowhere.”

Pratt was in charge of the bonding for the trails, the millage of which was put on the ballot and passed in November 2006. They started collecting for the millage that winter.

Pratt said the bonding was over $4.5 million up front for all three phases of the trail project. After the lengthy process of getting a bond rating and finding a bank to loan the money, Pratt said they were ready to begin.

Ferro said the plan is going according to schedule and on-budget, and he does not foresee any problems in carrying out the rest of the project.

“We need to gauge feedback and make adjustments,” he said. “The first phase is already being used by people; it’s very well received. It encourages people to stay healthy and fit by getting out there, and it keeps bikers and pedestrians safe, not to mention raises property value. People are out using them before they’re finished.”

A Hero's Welcome, Long Overdue

This article was written recently for the Rockford Squire newspaper, and I feel is a powerful look at not only the welcome home event for Vietnam veterans, but also the people and emotions behind the Vietnam War, as well as anyone close to military life. You can find the original article here.
Hope you enjoy.

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5/3 Ballpark Hosts LZ Michigan, a welcome home for Vietnam vets

By Matt Marn

A parade of motorcycle riders cruised into 5/3 Ballpark on a hot and sunny July 3 to kick off LZ Michigan, a reunion and welcome home for Vietnam veterans. LZ Michigan was also a chance for the community to show their gratitude for all the veterans went through and sacrificed for their country.

Vietnam War veterans Ken McKay and Rod VanOeveren reunite after serving together decades ago. They saw each other for the first time here in the United States at the Fifth/Third LZ Michigan welcome home event honoring servicemen and women.

LZ, a military slang term for “Landing Zone,” refers to a safe place for helicopters to land. That day, it meant a safe place to return to; a safe place to get the hero’s welcome they earned so long ago.

The Michigan Traveling Memorial wall outside the stadium displayed and paid respects to all those killed and missing in Vietnam from the state of Michigan. Nearby tables, draped in black tablecloths and littered with tissue boxes, offered dozens of binders with names, ranks, pictures and stories of soldiers who paid the ultimate price.

Ken McKay of Grand Rapids came to LZ Michigan with his wife, Joan, to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers in Vietnam. McKay is one such soldier, who spent his 21st birthday calling in F-4 Phantom airstrikes on military targets.

“At the time, we hadn’t heard about all the demonstrations, we were just fighting,” McKay said. “We came back, and were called baby-killers.”

The American people were, at times, unwelcoming upon the return of our soldiers after Vietnam, sometimes downright hostile. But LZ Michigan, McKay said, is a start to the healing process.

“This is the best day that has ever happened to me.”

McKay went through grade school, high school, even Boy Scouts, with his good friend Rod VanOeveren. They enlisted together, went through basic training and boot camp together, and were deployed into separate areas of combat.

Later, when he was in the room calling in airstrikes at 21, McKay heard his name called across the room. He looked over to the man who was calling for him. It was VanOeveren, calling in naval targets himself.

And when VanOeveren found McKay at LZ Michigan, the men shook hands and embraced, friends reunited once more.

Stefanie Leiter brought her father-in-law, Lester Amburgey, a Vietnam veteran, to LZ Michigan to help show her gratitude. Having served January 1968 to October 1970, Amburgey only recently began sharing his experiences after he attended a number of reunions, Leiter said.

“It’s about time this happened,” Amburgey said of LZ Michigan’s welcome home. “I just feel bad about the guys we left behind. It’s kind of bittersweet. I go to reunions every year. We’ve still got our commanding general with us. He’s 83 years old now. But it still doesn’t get any easier. We keep losing guys.”

A Vietnam vet who goes by the name “Big Mike” pointed out the thought, “as a generation leaves us, so do the memories.”

Big Mike said the day was about honoring those who did what they had to do.

“But we don’t want to see it happen again, he said. “Desert Storm vets will have to carry the load. We’re not going to be here much more. Well, should we go get more to carry on? No, we don’t want more. We want to have a day where there’s none of this.”

Next to Big Mike sits a man proudly waving a black POW/MIA flag in the breeze. The man has been carrying this flag with him for miles. In fact, he is running a mile with the flag for all 58, 226 Americans that were killed in Vietnam. “Flag Man,” as he is called by his friends, said he has logged over 54,000 miles so far.

“When it gets tough, I think about the guys who didn’t come home,” he said. “The main point of all of this is to honor our vets, to let them know we love them, and that you are not forgotten.”

This respect for those in uniform is never more real than among fellow soldiers. An example of this was shown for all to see when a man in a POW/MIA T-shirt and a Vietnam veteran cap stopped a young soldier as he passed by, asking him if he was an Iraq War veteran.

The young man, clad in fatigues, black beret and combat boots, said yes and stood in silence as he was presented a medal by his Vietnam brother-in-arms.

“We Vietnam veterans want to present you with this medal to show our gratitude and appreciation for what you have done,” the man said. “From one generation to another, welcome home.”

The LZ Michigan ceremony featured guest speakers, musicians, writers, and clips from two upcoming documentaries on the Vietnam War and what happened when the soldiers returned. 2,654 small American flags stood planted in center field, one representing each soldier from Michigan that has yet to come home. In the closing ceremony, there was a moment of silence for a bugle rendition of TAPS, followed by a fireworks show.

The master of ceremonies of the night, retired U.S. Navy Captain Paul Ryan, ended the evening with a last, thundering round of applause from the audience for all war veterans present in the stands. He reminded everyone that the next day was July 4, when 234 years ago a group of brave men, a group of patriots, stood up for freedom and started more than any could imagine.

“When you came home, you were called anything but patriots,” Ryan said. “Welcome home, patriots! Welcome home.”

-Pictured above: Childhood friends Ken McKay, left, and Rod VanOeveren, right, are reunited after serving together in Vietnam.