MILFORD — A discussion about hiring summer staff at Waubee Lake Park during the monthly meeting of Milford’s town council Monday, March 12, spiraled into a wider conversation covering a range of issues, from litter to drugs, besetting the park in recent years. Joining in the discussion were local residents as well as law enforcement and town employees.
The council voted to allocate $3,360 for Jerry Lenwell, who runs the park’s beach front concession stand, to assist with cleaning up brush and trash on the property at the request of Water Operator and Street Superintendent Steven Marquart, who has increasingly reported on littering at the park. “People don’t use trash bins,” he commented.
Council member Bob Cockburn, who during visits last summer to the park with his granddaughters was dismayed by foul language, cigarette smoking and intimidating behavior, said he wanted there to be an understanding Linwell’s job included reporting unlawful behavior to the police.
Travis Marsh, Milford police chief, reported 15 individuals were ejected from the park in 2017, four of whom were minors. He also indicated the park is known to local and county law enforcement as a location frequented by drug dealers and his officers are “trying to maximize visibility at the park.”
“The park is the tip of the iceberg for what we have going on in Milford,” said Marsh of the drug problem, and the park is one location where “a lot of drops and a lot of pick-ups” take place. “We handle it as best we can.”
Marsh also pointed to the boat launch site as one with “a lot of trouble traffic.”
Waubee Lake Park’s difficulties partially stem from what Van Buren Township Trustee Rebecca Alles called its “unusual situation,” being located so far from town. Alles was referring to comments made by K21 Foundation officials at the dedication of the park’s new playground equipment in 2017. She added the township may be able to assist with parks and recreation and she would raise the issue at a future meeting.
Marsh and Marquart agreed this detachment makes it difficult to maintain a visible presence at the park, though last year’s purchase of security cameras may help alleviate the problem.
“I’m not comfortable we have the right approach,” mused Dan Cochran, council member. He suggested the town “reach out” to other municipalities who have dealt with similar problems.
Milford resident Ashle Engle, a “stay-at-home mom” who regularly visits Waubee Lake Beach in the summers, and whose 9-year old daughter once found a cigar containing marijuana on a bench, had some suggestions for the council, including a neighborhood watch program and a fundraising event akin to Lake Days at Center Lake.
“Whatever helps my kids helps me,” said Engle.
Council President Doug Ruch wondered if the “mere presence of a fence” may deter some offenders and floated the idea of a fence around pavilions and the beach areas, locked during off hours.
Other attendees suggested an entrance fee from $2 to $5 as a possible deterrent. It was also mentioned the presence of cameras has increased the profitability of the boat launch. Another suggestion was more signage, including “area under surveillance” or “vandalism will be prosecuted” signs.
The community, Marsh concluded, “has to take stock and take ownership” of the park. “We need extra eyes and alerts.”