CARO — If you are going to dream, why not dream big?
That has become the mindset of the Tuscola County Commissioners if a satisfactory deal can be worked out with the state to sell a former correctional facility outside of Caro for $1.
Earlier this year when state Senator Mike Green (R – Mayville) proposed selling the former Camp Tuscola and the Re-Entry Center to the county a great deal of interest was expressed about developing the facility for equestrian use.
“I’ve given tours (of the camp) several times to a number of entities who have ideas for the property,” said county Commissioner Craig Kirkpatrick noting the first idea was to develop riding trails for horses. “Since then other ideas have been pitched for uses… develop a multi-use park.”
With unbridled visions, all options are being considered.
Because of that, Kirkpatrick hosted a tour Monday for Andy Northrup, who is a Michigan State University tourism expert and Tuscola County Economic Development (EDC) Communications Director Vicky Sherry.
“The site is a vast piece of property – so uses can be vast. Andy is an expert in his field. He has help develop ‘eco – tourism’ in 14 countries,” said Kirkpatrick.
The prison complex consists of $600 with large sections of woods and access to the Cass River so a few possible uses that could be developed are: cross-country skiing, natural trails, hiking trails, camping, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing, and more.
“Andy will be developing a report on his thoughts of what could be developed there to present to the commissioners. It will take to the end of the year to the first part of next year for him to complete his report,” he said. “It is a large, diverse piece of property with a variety of potential uses.”
Although preliminary plans are being developed, they are only plans and dreams, and will remain as such until when and if an acceptable deal can be worked out with the state.
Also, after the Advertiser ran the article when Green met in a closed session with the commissioners about the prison, some Indianfields Township officials expressed concerns about the county taking on unknown liability and costs from asbestos in the former prison buildings, and also not being included in conversations on the reuse of the site.
Kirkpatrick talked with Indianfields Township Supervisor Ray Rendon and Clerk Bill Campbell about when the state tried offered the property to the township and also to the Tuscola Area Airport years ago and their rejection because of the cost of removing aspects from the buildings.
The prison complex has five buildings – two prisons and three cottages.
“Mike (Green) just pitched the offer of the property. There are many, many details that have to be worked out yet – a major one is the buildings with asbestos issues,” said Kirkpatrick.
While the property acquisition presents a unique opportunity for recreation development in the county, there are a not of hurdles and compromises that would have to be done to accomplish that.
According to Kirkpatrick, Green has indicated he would do everything in his power to assist with the deal – including trying to take the buildings out of the equation, but he doesn’t have the final say because the property belongs to the Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Corrections.
When Kirkpatrick was updating the commissioners during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, audience members in attendance expressed support and interest in developing multiple uses for the prison complex.
Either way the matter is far from a done deal. Besides working out details, there will have to be public meetings on the proposed property transfer, and it takes legislative action for the state to do a property transfer.
The re-entry site started out as part of Caro Center’s mental-health complex. After the state closed some buildings, a minimum security complex was developed. When the prison complex closed, commissioners lobbied the state to find another use for the site. Through that effort, it was turned into a re-entry center as a bridge for those who had been incarcerated to return to society.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.