Grand Traverse Farmhouse Will Be Used for Fire Training

An abandoned house on county park property will have to go – and the question is not only how, but how much will it cost?

The old farmhouse sits on the Maple Bay Park property in Grand Traverse County’s Acme Township. County Commissioner and Parks Commissioner Rob Hentschel says they’ve been working towards a middle ground. “It was a compromise. I wasn’t completely happy with how we went about it. I’d like to know who is paying for what.”

The farmhouse has been there for generations, but the parkland is supposed to be green space. The county acquired the parkland, and essentially inherited the farmhouse, which sits on 450 acres of the Maple Bay Natural Area. Grand Traverse County Parks Commissioners decided in 2018 to find a way to get rid of the old farmhouse. They ultimately opted to let fire crews use it for training.

But one thing they didn’t do, according Hentschel, is talk about how to pay for it. “There was no talk prior to this about how we’re going to pay for that. It’s not in the budget, it’s an unplanned, unexpected expense.”

Other ideas about what do with this property have been discussed in the past week, including seeing if there’s any interest from someone who wants to save the house and come in and haul it away. Hentschel says, “I asked should we first try that before we spend thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money?”

But time was running short, because fire crews who thought they had the green light from the Parks Commission have already been planning for months for a mid-August firefighters training. Grand Traverse Metro’s Fire Chief understands the financial concern. Pat Parker says, “The commissioners are just trying to see if there’s a way that we don’t have to spend that kind of money, I think it’s around the $15,000 range, not have to spend that money, would somebody come and take this thing away at no charge. The County Commission are doing their job and watching the pennies that are being spent in the county.”

Hentschel says it’s about the cost, and not about the value of the training. “That’s something they need to do because it saves lives. The question is who is paying for it. A lot of talk about the value of the training. If it’s so valuable, how come no one wants to pay to clean it up?”  But he says Metro Fire is willing to work with the county.

Chief Parker says, “There’s some monies we can potentially help the county with, we will need to take it to our boards, but it has such high training value that we will help whatever way we can.”

Commissioners voted on Wednesday to allow fire crews to move forward with the training. They’ll address the burning financial questions later. Hentschel says, “It’s still up in the air as to how much it’s going to cost to clean it up… but essentially it falls back on the county.”

As for the training, it’s still on schedule for mid-August. Chief Parker says, “We’re going to be doing mayday training, rapid intervention training, firefighter safety survival training. It’s just a great structure for that.” In September, fire investigators will return to the house for training on determining the cause and source of fires set in the August training.