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On the move: Planning Commission backs dog park site, movement of Verna Mize memorial

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton City Manager Eric Waara points to the potential location of a dog park by the water tank on Sharon Avenue and Portage Street during the Houghton Planning Commission meeting Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton Planning Commission gave its support Tuesday to plans to relocate the Verna Mize memorial to the waterfront and create a new dog park by Sharon Avenue.

Since its dedication in 1981, the Verna Mize Park has been located on a thin strip of land along Memorial Drive.

Mize, a Houghton native, campaigned to stop the Reserve Mining Company from dumping tailings of taconite, an iron ore, into Lake Superior at Two Harbors, Minnesota. Her 13-year fight ended with a 1980 settlement that stopped the dumping. For her efforts, former Gov. William Milliken dubbed her “the First Lady of Lake Superior.”

The park is at once hidden and exposed, with only a guardrail and sidewalk standing between two lanes of westbound traffic on M-26.

Fittingly, the new location will be closer to the water, City Manager Eric Waara said. A memorial and an interpretive plaque put there by Michigan Technological University will be moved to a grassy area near the big dock by the Kestner Waterfront Park.

“People can see it, people will use it, they’ll read it versus having to go to Verna Mize Park,” he said. “When we want to go to Verna Mize Park, we park in the park-and-ride, cars whistle by, and it’s just no fun.”

The new memorial site will be set back from the snowmobile trail, Waara said.

Waara also brought up a potential dog park site on city-owned land near the water tank on Portage Street. The Houghton Rotary and private funders have shown interest in providing money for a park, Waara said.

The park would likely be about 150 feet by 100 feet, Waara said. It would also have separate areas for big dogs and little dogs. The use would not conflict with the site’s other use as a snow dump, he said.

A location on Garnet Street had been floated as a potential dog park earlier this year, but met with criticism from some neighbors who worried about potential noise and dogs running onto their property. That location will still be used as a park, Waara said.

Unlike the Garnet Street site, the one by the water tank is several hundred feet from anyone’s backyard, Waara said.

The site has eight to 10 parking spots, plus thousands of square feet that could be used for overflow parking, as well as city property across the street. But the location makes it a prime destination for people walking their dogs, Waara said.

“It would take an otherwise underutilized, unloved part of the city and turn it into something,” Waara said.

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