Yesterday I drove into REO Town like I have thousands of times since becoming part of this bustling, edgy neighborhood and a new expanse met my eyes. For years I’ve exited the 496 highway onto the downtown exit and turned left onto Washington Ave. to find a view of aged pine trees lining the hilltop of a hidden garden area. Few knew about this treasure. In fact I accidentally found it and made it a point to explore it for a City Saunter Walk back in 2012. You can find that blog here. As I turned this day the sky glared brightly before me, no longer blocked by the shapely trees with all three towering coal stacks protruded rudely out of the barren hilltop. At this starkness I cried. I knew it was coming but had no idea the profound reaction I would have.
About a year ago I was told about the new BWL plans. I wasn’t happy to hear this news. As it turned out BWL, in the process of decommissioning the Eckert plant, would need to establish a new energy hub; a substation. There was a very specific need for this new substation. It would need to be along an existing power line and it had to be a certain distance away from the original source. There weren’t many properties that fit these requirements. Unfortunately the location they’d decided was the Scott Sunken Garden and adjoining house. For the next year the Lansing community would debate the need for such a move. As I’ve found out over and over in life, if an entity has more power, more authority and more money than any opposing entity, it will most likely get its way. Despite strong opposition from the community, BWL went ahead with their plans.
The plans for this new construction hit me from two specific perspectives. As the City Saunterer I was greatly disappointed. This area had a unique beauty to it and a historic significance. However, I’ve been through the area multiple times and visually could see the neglect. I’ve seen tossed away clothing, food and trash scattered throughout the area. The brush has grown up around most of the outlying areas making it unwalkable. The garden itself was a beautiful gem, yet underutilized and underappreciated.
I also had the perspective of an active member in REO Town. As the Vice President of the REO Town Commercial Association I participated in multiple meetings where BWL presented their plan. They offered funds that were sorely needed. They offered art grants in excess of past offerings. They designed access where there was none. They promised to create a more friendly community garden area. They even offered to pay to have the historic house moved. For each loss they offered an olive branch. For almost a year I hoped something else would come along. I hoped a new decision would be made. I hoped a new plan would develop. Unfortunately nothing new emerged as an option. It had become apparent that this was going to happen and I was trying to find the silver lining in the situation.
A couple months into the New Year signs that this was really happening started to appear: fencing around the property, traffic cones, and tree trimming. They quickly moved into demolishing the historic house that sat on the property. The offer to move it was turned down by multiple groups as the repairs to the house made it unaffordable. Then within this last week or so all the trees were cut down. I’m not sure why that was the part that brought me to tears, but it was. It changed the entire landscape. The hidden garden was no longer hidden. Trees that once protected this treasured grove now lay piled in a heap of shredded pulp. A secluded grassy knoll now lay barren and muddy with only the ancient limestone structure remaining, void of most its greenery.
Soon the new construction will begin and it will become normal to see a stone wall facing north as I turn onto Washington Ave. off the 496 highway. At some point it will probably feel like it’s always been there. I’m curious to see what that will look like. I’ve seen the renderings and it will be impressive. I’m excited to see the art on display. I’m hopeful about the proposed amphitheater area. I really like the idea of river access off Washington Ave. and the lit pathway leading to the Cooley Garden area and the newly established Sunken Garden BWL has promised to recreate. I feel at some point this REO Town addition will feel normal. But for many there will always be hidden deep inside that stone structure and updated art, the specter of a lost treasure; a beautiful sunken garden surrounded by towering, protective pines.
**This blog post is written as my personal perspective and in no way represents the opinions of the REO Town Commercial Association or its members.