By Patrick Sullivan
Opposition to the citys plan to remove the Spirit of Traverse City from
Clinch Park is gaining steam.
In the meantime, while the mini train could be figuratively derailed by
the end of this summer, or otherwise moved someplace else, it literally
derailed and part of it tipped over on July 4. The train was back in
service Wednesday after repairs.
Michelle Hazard started the Facebook group Save the Spirit of Traverse
City after she discovered the train had been removed from the citys
bayfront plan and was not expected to return in 2012.
The group has generated hundreds of comments and prompted nearly 1,500
people to hit the like button.
Im a relatively new resident, but one of the first things I did when I
came up here was go to Clinch Park and take pictures of the train and its
passengers and I thought what a neat thing it was, Hazard said. The
train was part of the process of deciding I wanted to move here.
At a meeting Tuesday, the city commission responded to the uproar.
Commissioners agreed to ask the architects to try to design the train back
into the bayfront plan, Mayor Christopher Bzdok said.
Planners may also seek an alternate spot for the train, he said.
The uproar is good for local morning radio, which seems to be
generating it, but the parks commission has been and continues to be
working on a solution, Bzdok said.
In fact, Hazard said the spokesman for the Save the Sprit of TC group is
Jack OMalley, a morning DJ at WTCM.
Jim Carruthers, a city commissioner, said he believes the train should be
saved because of its historical significance.
Everybody seems to have a memory of that train, Carruthers said. Dont
we want to preserve our history in some way?
Carruthers hears the train from his home on 11th Street and believes it
adds to the character of the city.
He said he isnt sure how many of the train supporters are actually city
residents, though. Many of them, he suspects, are tourists or people who
live out of town.
SUPPORT COMES LATE
Some say the public outcry in favor of the train is coming a little late.
Gary Howe, a parks and recreation commissioner and smart growth advocate
on his blog, mywheelsareturning.com, said there were numerous
opportunities for people to voice their feelings about the train during
the bayfront planning process.
During those public hearings, the train didnt receive a lot of support,
The design/engineering firm played with many different ideas and in the
end couldnt make it work with all the other elements and goals that came
out of an exhaustive public process that included a lot of volunteer hours
by a lot of people, Howe said.
Howe said it was determined that including the train would ultimately mean
too many sacrifices would have to be made to a well-though-out plan to
make the bayfront more usable.
There wasnt a large outcry demanding the city to design around the
train, Howe said. In fact, many people were indifferent, if not
supportive of moving forward without the train.
Lauren Vaughn, Traverse City Parks and Recreation superintendent, agrees
the decision to remove the train came down to design.
When (the design firm) got to the final design work, they felt that it
just didnt fit well, Vaughn said.
New features such as the splash pad proposed for TCs bayfront are also
expected to bring more children to the area, increasing safety concerns,
Cost of the train didnt factor into the decision to remove it, Vaughn
said. He said in the past few years the train has operated at a deficit of
roughly around $5,000 to $10,000 per year.
Carruthers said even though he was a part of the bayfront planning process
he doesnt understand how the train was removed from the plans.
I do remember the meetings where one week it was there and the next
meeting it wasnt, he said.
He shares the concern of critics about the lack of public discussion
leading to the removal of the train.
Designers can design around things, he said. They just felt it would be
easier to come in and have a clean slate.
The train literally derailed on July 4. Vaughn said no injuries were
There is an array of possible causes for the derailment -- a coin or a
rock could have caused the train to leave the rails, or the movement of
passengers could have caused the car to tip, he said.
Vaughn said minor derailments that involve the train coming off the tracks
but not tipping over are not uncommon, but hes never heard of the train
tipping over like it did last week.
This is my 20th year and I cant remember any time when a train car has
tipped over like that, Vaughn said.
The Spirit of Traverse City has been a part of TCs history since the
In 1970 a local resident purchased the locomotive from an owner in
California, according to the citys website.
The man attempted to set it up on his property on Elk Lake but his family
soon lost interest and the train was for sale again.
The city purchased the train in 1979 and it went into service at Clinch
Park in 1982, renamed the Spirit of Traverse City.