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Changes To Fenton's Fabick Nature Preserve Possible

New plans for 125-acre green space under review

Attendees of the Nov. 6 meeting at Fenton City Hall review proposed plans to Fabick Nature Preserve. photo by Julie Brown Patton. (click for larger version)

November 10, 2017
Whether new, outdoor public amenities will be added to the 125-acre Fabick Nature Preserve in Fenton is being debated by the city's residents and representatives.

The preserve, located at 597 New Smizer Mill Road, is adjacent to Fenton City Park to the west and can be accessed by car from Fabick Lane at Larkin Williams Road.

Serious deliberations about the city-owned preserve began four months ago. However, not all involved agree "enhancements" are warranted or welcomed for what they consider to be a true nature and conservation sanctuary.

Representatives of Eureka-based DG2 Landscape Design outlined a master plan about new preserve options on Nov. 6 to attendees of the final public input meeting at city hall. Tom Diven, Fenton's director of parks and recreation, said the plan was funded through a $6,000 grant, with another $1,500 of city funds, and was intended to provide a road map.

The plan contains input gathered through surveys, written submissions, verbal comments and feedback at previous public meetings.

Fenton calls itself the "city of parks," and this quiet preserve is the largest area held by the city within its public parks system.

Fabick Nature Preserve, 597 New Smizer Mill Road, can be accessed by vehicle from Larkin Williams Road.

The preserve property was bought by Fenton officials for $6.8 million in the mid-1990s from the local John Fabick family, said Fenton alderman Joe Maurath. The Fabick family founded the preserve. The onsite Fabick mansion was knocked down years ago, but the patio remains. In fact, some of the original stonework pavilions and cobblestone roads from the 1920s are still visible, in addition to the former helicopter landing pad.

The preserve currently contains two lakes for public fishing, natural conservation areas and 1.7 miles of wood chip and gravel walking trails for pedestrians and dogs.

Audrey Wattler, a Fenton resident who serves on the city's Park, Beautification and Recreation Committee and has the preserve located within the area she represents, said the city's limited funding two decades ago was dedicated to maintaining the preserve's two lakes and keeping the area in a solid, natural state.

She said feedback regarding the most desired new options for the preserve include more hiking paths, bird watching spots and road or parking improvements.

"Most residents don't know the preserve exists. They think it's private property," she said.

DG2 owner Kristy DeGuire told attendees the plan reflected compromises on the best uses of the area. She emphasized their recommendations were "very passive concepts and that the feel is right."

DeGuire said her team worked toward six objectives: park safety; universal accessibility; site infrastructure; education opportunities; connecting with nature; and ease of maintenance. Suggested amenities include new landscaping, pavilions, access points, picnic uses, natural play elements such as boulders or climbing walls, overlook areas, docks, prairie spaces, observation areas, an amphitheater/outdoor classroom, lounging spots and parking points.

DG2 owner Kristy DeGuire, left, shows Fenton resident Kathy Genn plans for Fabick Nature Preserve. photo by Julie Brown Patton.

"Why can't the money be spent toward enhancing the preserve's trails for all year long and to add a bathroom? Maybe adding some parking space," asked Fenton resident Terri Hoff.

Michael Lucas, who chairs the city's Park Committee, said the goal was to use the Fabick property in ways to give more residents the ability to enjoy it.

Carol Tague, a Fenton resident who stated she had lived near the preserve for 40 years, implored everyone to leave the area as "an island of serenity," in its untainted, peaceful and natural state.

"To improve on nature will, in some ways, destroy it," said Tague, who said she is against increased vehicular access and entertainment activities being added to the preserve.

A man who said he represented fishermen who liked to use the preserve stated he "didn't want kids running around there while he was fishing." He also said he believed nothing fancy is needed for the area, instead suggesting a few picnic tables be added.

Kathy Genn, another Fenton resident whose personal property borders the preserve, said she believed the recommendations would change the area from its intended use as a preserve into "a soft park."

"It already needs more police surveillance from people loitering at odd hours. It's meant to be a place of tranquility. I would hate to see it suffer a major change," Genn added.

Fenton's Park Committee members are weighing this current round of input, with additional discussions slated through December, and perhaps January 2018.

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