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Marshbank: The Park That Almost Wasn't

Now improved and ready to be dedicated Sunday, the right to enjoy the Cass Lake gem took an effort from concerned citizens.

Marshbank Park, will welcome visitors again after a dedication ceremony Sunday. But the park reopening to the public almost didn't happen.

By May of 1987, Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority had announced its intention to sell  after initially receiving the land as a gift from Howard and Amy Bloomer in 1943.

Howard was an early member of the HCMA board and an attorney for the Dodge Brothers auto company. He may well have had a hand in drafting the 1943 deed to the park, which said, in part, that HCMA shall maintain the premises “for the purposes of recreation or maintenance of the health of said public.” If that became “infeasible,” HCMA should have “the right to convey said premises to such other State, County, Municipal or other public” entity that “may be able and willing to maintain said premises for the purposes above mentioned.”

Community groups were outraged when they learned there was now a price tag on what had been a gift to the people of southeast Michigan. 

In 1987, the West Bloomfield Township Board accepted the Deed of Conveyance from HCMA to bring Marshbank into the township’s park system — free of charge.

How did the park become free?

What happened between the appraisals and the acquisition of this jewel on Cass Lake is a story of pure persistence by West Bloomfield residents, spearheaded by two respected township organizations:  the West Bloomfield Land Conservancy (WBLC) and Concerned Citizens for West Bloomfield (CCWB).

“For about half the year, even on some beautiful days, the gate was locked and people had to climb over the fence to enjoy it,” said retired West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Director Sally Slater Pierce, then its administrative assistant.

As a member of the WBLC board, she also was a supporter of the residents fighting to bring Marshbank free to the township’s parks system.

“Concerned Citizens wanted to see the park open year-round. Hoping to help make that happen, they had arranged a meeting in 1981 with West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation and a representative of HCMA. Residents had a history of supporting the park, well before HCMA announced plans to sell. I think everyone just assumed that if HCMA no longer wanted the park, its board would turn it over to West Bloomfield free of charge, just as the state had done with Bloomer Park on Middle Straits Lake,” she said.

HCMA hoped to use the money it gained by the sale to “make improvements and add facilities at other parks," according to a 1987 article in The Detroit News.

The West Bloomfield Parks Commission offered $200,000, which HCMA rejected, according to a 1987 article in the Spinal Column Newsweekly.

Citizen action marked summer of 1987

Through the summer of 1987 the effort by CCWB and WBLC for Marshbank continued. Research revealed that a 6.44 acre section of Marshbank on the south side of Commerce Road, with frontage on Orchard Lake and within the City of Orchard Lake Village, had already been sold to the village, and resold to a developer.

This site held the house where Howard and Amy had lived, where Brad Bloomer’s father and his aunt Virginia grew up and where Brad spent happy childhood summers. He had not known that this property, covered by the same deed, dear to the family, had been sold. He wanted to do what he could to assure that the park on Cass Lake was conveyed according to his grandfather’s wishes, especially because the part on Orchard Lake had not been.

WBLC retained an attorney to draft a to which letter Brad Bloomer could refer in writing to HCMA, gave him the date of the September HCMA board meeting at which the decision on the “sale” of Marshbank was scheduled — and suggested the West Bloomfield Parks Commission withdraw any offer it might have on the table before that meeting.

We get the park for free

Leaders of WBLC and CCWB received copies of letters written to the HCMA board Sept. 9, one from Brad Bloomer and one from Virginia Bloomer Shannon, which urged the board “to transfer free of charge the Marshbank Park property to West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation. Huron Clinton received it as a gift and it is only fitting that it should be passed on as a gift to an organization that is ready and willing to maintain it in accordance with my father’s intent.”   

West Bloomfield Eccentric editor Judith Doner Berne’s Sept. 24 editorial began simply “Hooray! It looks as if West Bloomfield will get a park – and get it free.”  The editorial thanked “this feisty band of residents (who) would not let the issue die.” And it saluted Howard Bloomer, his daughter and grandson, saying it was “most likely his (Brad’s) strong letter to James Clarkson, chairman of the Huron Clinton board that turned the tide.”

Pierce pointed out that the park has undergone several significant developments that enhanced the Bloomer gift and brought pleasure to park lovers of all ages and many communities, from walkers and skiers to ballplayers and outdoor concert-goers.

The last major renovation, made under current West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Director Dan Navarre and Deputy Director Dave Burley, is being formally dedicated this Sunday. Its use of “green technologies,” from the bio swales and porous pavements for storm water management to the many energy efficiencies of its all season shelter, might well surprise and delight Howard Bloomer. He was described by George Stark in a 1942 newspaper article as “a passionate advocate of reforestation and conservation of our natural resources," according to a 1987 story in the West Bloomfield Eccentric, which quoted an unnamed source.

McEwen is a former board member and president of .

To view a photo gallery of the progress of renovation work at teh park, westbloomfieldparks.org.

Janet J. Nellett November 11, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Thank you to the groups and individuals who worked to preserve the property that is Marshbank Park. The park provided a site for many Cub Scout and personal picnics for many years. It is a beautiful site and I'm so glad that it will not be developed in any way for any other purpose but a public park. Janet J. Nellett, Waterford
Dave Boerger November 12, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Great story. One concern with the new features of Marsh Bank Park - the contiguous walking path around the outer areas of the park has been lost. How about recreating it again before declaring success.
Steven W. Bills December 13, 2011 at 11:42 PM
As a children in the late 1960's, my brothers and I spent many afternoons playing at Marsh Bank Park. We were raised in the original Bloomer home directly across Commerce road from the backside of the park, so we would just walk. Our property was the remainder of his land after the donation in 1947, and my father Robert W. Bills, a landscape architect - was leasing the old house from HCMA/MetroParks. The Bloomer home was razed in the late 1980's and the land was developed and 4 multi-million dollar homes were built on it. Sad. A return trip back to Marsh Bank Park is one of my 'bucket list' items....someday.

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