File Photo | The Advertiser The Tuscola County Road Commission has denied a Vassar Township request to place solar-powered flashing stop signs, such as this one, along Caine Road at Saginaw Road, where a spate of car crashes has occurred recently.

Some day someone definitively will determine who owns, and is responsible, for the road running through Vanderbilt Park.

WISNER TWP. — Some day someone definitively will determine who owns, and is responsible, for the road running through Vanderbilt Park. For now, though, that ownership remains a mystery. For while Vanderbilt Park has been around for decades, apparently no one has ever known who has jurisdiction over Gilmore Road coming into Tuscola County’s only park.

Wisner Township supervisor Tim Rumble thinks the Gilmore Road entrance to the park belongs to his township. Tuscola County building and grounds director Mike Miller thinks that road belongs to the county. And the Tuscola County Road Commission thinks at least part of Gilmore Road belongs to Wisner Township. 

The road commission has determined Gilmore is a certified county road, Rumble said, and the township has to maintain it in the park and north of the park. At present, that means the road commission takes care of Gilmore Road. “We have to pay for the maintenance of that,” he said, “at this point, all of Gilmore Road, including what is in the park.”

Which led to Rumble asking the county’s board of commissioners at the Jan. 16 Committee of the Whole session (where the commissioners can discuss and consider ideas and issues, but can take no action) to begin the process of taking over ownership of approximately 750 feet of the road around the park’s north gates. 

He said the process would include abandoning the road and legal measures that would include a survey. “It has been surveyed to death down there,” Rumble said, “so we are not going to have to worry about a survey. They have surveyed it at least three times.”

The township also would have to get signatures on a petition to abandon the road and host a public hearing. He added the plan isn’t to actually abandon the road, but to turn it over to the county. “At this point we can just talk about it,” Rumble said. “We have to realize we need to talk about things in the future. So if it works out, fine. And if it doesn’t, that’s why we are here.”

Rumble said the road commission won’t even consider a transfer at this point because the road commission is working on an intergovernmental agreement with the county commission over maintaining the road through the park. District 1 Commissioner Tom Young, who represents Akron, Columbia, Elkland, Elmwood, Fairgrove, Gilford and Wisner townships, said he doesn’t know if it would be an advantage for the county to own that section of the road.

“My only concern is we would be assuming the liability and the cost of maintaining that road,” controller/administrator Clayette Zechmeister said. “That would be additional costs on the county.” Rumble told the board he didn’t know how much his township spends each year on maintaining Gilmore Road. It is part of about 22 miles of unimproved gravel roads in Wisner Township.

Miller said the county’s already spending a few hundred dollars a year to have the road commission maintain – to grade and plow snow — the road from the park to Quanicassee Road in the south. “It hasn’t been very expensive,” Miller said. “I don’t imagine the rest of it would be very expensive, if that is the way we went.”

The stretch in question, Miller said, is within the park so he assumed it was part of the park and therefore belonged to the county. And former county commissioner Dan Grimshaw believed that was park road too. “I think we actually need to determine if it is a county road or if it is a park road,” Miller said.

“I’m confused, personally,” he added. “I’m not sure who it belongs to so I think that really needs to be determined by the road commission or whomever. We need to be absolutely certain who owns it.” District 4 Commissioner Bill Lutz, who represents Arbela, Millington, Tuscola and Watertown townships, agreed.

“I think we need to find out who owns the road for sure,” he said, “before we start making any decisions.” Ownership is vital, Miller said, because the road is the only access to some campsites at the park, “so somebody has to maintain it, whether it is us, the road commission or whatever. It is going to have to be there.”

Even if ownership of that is solved, he said, there still are questions about the curve in the road and who owns that land. “I think that is an overall package we need to look at,” Miller said. “But first we need to determine who owns that,” Rumble said.

Wisner Township clerk Pam Shook said the unknown area at the curve is where Spencer Road was going to connect with Gilmore Road if Spencer Road had been brought through. “But that road was never put there,” she said.

District 5 Commissioner Matt Koch, who represents the city of Vassar and Denmark, Juniata and Vassar townships, suggested the commission’s building and grounds committee meet with Miller, the road commission and the county’s lawyer, Eric Morris of Saginaw’s Braun Kendrick law firm, to clarify ownership of the road. 

Rumble asked if he could attend, and was told he could because it will be an open meeting. “You would think in all of the years we’ve been doing this that would be a wise idea,” District 2 Commissioner Thomas Bardwell said. “We have discussed this seven ways to Christmas.”

The commissioners have been discussing the road, who owns it and what to do with it since at least 2004, added Bardwell, who represents the city of Caro and Almer, Ellington and Indianfields townships. “I think this is the right way to proceed,” Rumble said, “to actually get some form of paperwork to show who owns it because I am just going by what the road commission told me.”