Where The Sidewalk Ends

Where The Sidewalk Ends

Connecting community in Frankfort

By Aubrey Ann Parker
Current Editor

For those who do not know, Jordan Bates and I, co-owners of this newspaper, live in downtown Frankfort. We love how we can walk just about anywhere—the farmers’ market, the post office, the beach, the Betsie Valley Trail, multiple stores, restaurants, and bars—though we fully admit that we do not walk as much as we should. Still, we are a one-car household, and we do try our best.

On that note, earlier this month, right after the first real snowstorm of the year, I was preparing to walk the three or so blocks from our house to Frankfort Elementary for a school board meeting. (I am the board secretary.) Thinking that I would be trudging through knee-high snow drifts, I pulled on my snowpants and my heavy boots. To my amazement, however, the sidewalk in the front of our house was pristine. (Like most people who live on our street, we park in the back alley and we rarely use our front doors, so this came as quite a surprise; yes, we are technically supposed to keep the sidewalk cleared, but for the many, many years that we have lived here, next to none of our neighbors actually did this… so neither did we.) In fact, the entire route to the school was recently snowblown and beautiful, twinkling under the new lamp posts along M-22.

When I arrived at the meeting all bundled up, one of my fellow board members asked if I had come straight from skiing. 

“No,” I responded, a bit quizzically.  

“But, you’re wearing snowpants?”

I explained how I had expected to be hauling myself through snowbanks, as I had for the previous five years of winter meetings. I told the board how I was pleasantly surprised that the walk to the school had been so easy. I asked if anyone knew who was snowblowing the route; was it a good citizen with a lot of time on her/his hands? None of my fellow board members seemed to know.

Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools superintendent Jeff Tousley did, however: “I believe it’s Chuck Nostrandt.”

Dedicated community journalist that I am, I decided to find out the scoop.

The Scoop
Chuck Nostrandt (43) has lived in Frankfort most of his life—he was born at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital; he graduated from the Frankfort-Elberta Area School system in 1997; he briefly moved up to Traverse City for a couple of years after high school, before moving back to live and work here. 

Nostrandt worked for the Benzie County Road Commission for almost 15 years, and he also worked for the state by clearing state roads, like M-22 and M-115 in Frankfort. 

These days, though, he can be found clearing sidewalks in his hometown via a medium-sized, orange Kubota tractor.

Last winter, Nostrandt began contracting with the City of Frankfort to snowblow almost 6,200 linear feet of residential sidewalks as a sort of pilot project, to see how much effort it would take, how much it would cost, and whether or not it would be appreciated by the community. This year, thanks to this past summer’s renovation project to much of the city’s streets—and thus the sidewalks—Nostrandt was able to almost double the area that he clears: he added an additional 5,600 linear feet this winter, including the sidewalks in front of my house. 

How often is he out there?

“I feel out the weather. I try to wait until after the state and the county [plows] go through, because they pile up snow at the intersections, and when the snow is piled up, most people will just go into the road around it rather than climb up it,” Nostrandt explains. “I try to keep on it. About every two to three inches, I go out to clean it up.”

For instance, as of the printing of this paper, Nostrandt estimates that he has been out about five or six times this month.

As to the reason he started this endeavor in the first place:

“When I would come through [Frankfort], I’d see so many people walking on the streets or in the alleys, and it made me really nervous,” he says. “It’s hard for drivers to see them, especially when there are parked cars and the alleys are so tight.”

So he started doing something about it, though he admits that it began as something pretty “unofficial” and small. Through his business, CnN Property Care, which he has owned for the past nine years with his wife, Nicole (Boyce) Nostrandt (43)—he is the “C,” she is the “N”—he was already snowblowing the sidewalks for a few people in town. 

“Then the neighbors just down the way would ask if I could come down a little further to do them, too,” he says. Rather than just doing the area in front of each home, Nostrandt found it easier to “buzz through” the whole strip, though he explains that first he checked with city officials, because sometimes the sidewalks were in poor shape in places—until recently, that is. 

If You Build It…
Back in 2013, the City of Frankfort applied for a grant that was procured through the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to build and/or maintain sidewalks near the two schools within the city limits. In 2015, construction for the “Safe Roads to School” project began: a sidewalk was put in along James Street and 11th Street, as well as improved crosswalk areas and the re-doing of a section of sidewalk across from the elementary school.

In total, around 3,000 feet of sidewalks were constructed for the project, with each North-South block running about 400 feet on one side:

• Two blocks on both sides of 9th through 11th streets: 1600 feet
• James Street on one side, from 11th Street to Day Avenue: 430 feet
• All of 11th Street: 1,000 feet 

Six years later, MDOT re-paved M-115/Forest Avenue this past summer of 2021, from essentially the Gateway through the intersection with M-22 (also called Crystal Avenue/7th Street). This meant that the sidewalks on both sides of the road were all refinished, also.

The City decided to dovetail a capital improvement project at the same time: the sidewalk was expanded from 10th Street along the south corridor to connect with what had just been redone at M-22. The sidewalk was also expanded at East Main Street to M-22 and then to the A&W restaurant.

“The state paid for the M-22 portions of that,” explains City of Frankfort superintendent Joshua Mills (48). “The City paid for the section along M-22 and up to the Grove Place Apartments.”

All in all, MDOT added 1,400 linear feet of new sidewalks and the City added 1,000 linear feet for a total of 2,400 feet of new sidewalks added this past summer and fall, to go along with the 3,000 feet of new-ish sidewalks from the 2015 project.

“Now, you could be at Grove Place Apartments and be on a sidewalk all the way into downtown,” Mills says proudly.

…He Will Snowblow It
For those readers who are not super familiar with the roads of Frankfort, the junior/senior high school building is located at 11th Street, which intersects with James Street. The numbered streets run North-South, while James runs East-West. So, if a person leaves the junior/senior high school and then travels along James Street in a Westerly direction, s/he will reach the elementary school in just about four and a half blocks, at the corner of 7th Street (M-22/Crystal Avenue) and Leelanau Street (which runs East-West, like James). In other words, the numbered blocks running North-South are 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th, and 7th (M-22) between the two schools; the named blocks running East-West are James, Leelanau, and Forest (M-115) between the schools, and then Main Street lies one block beyond that.

Nostrandt was already snowblowing parts of that school-to-school route for his paying customers, so he thought to himself, Why not go a little further?

“I first started by punching out a safety route from the elementary to the [Trinity Lutheran] Church [on James Street], in case there was ever an emergency and they needed to go there,” Nostrandt says. “Then, one day, I was at the [BP] gas station, just down the street from the [blinking] light [at the corner of 7th/M-22 and Forest/M-115], and kids were walking from the elementary to the [Benzie Shores District] Library on Main Street after school. So I figured that I should do that, too.”

Safety was the biggest, “number one” thing, according to Nostrandt. 

“I already had several homes on James Street that I was ’blowing for, so I figured I would just continue down to the high school,” he says, adding that he immediately saw an impact. “I was done with one pass and turned around; already I saw two kids walking on the other side, where I had just finished. I thought to myself, ‘That’s pretty cool. That’s a bonus.’

Mills calls the project a “partnership” with Nostrandt, CnN Properties is giving the City a really good deal and not charging what he could be for something like this. 

“We’re covering his fuel, and maybe a little bit of his time, but he does it really efficiently,” Mills says. “He puts sidewalk markers at different locations where it’s going to be tight, and he removes them when winter is done. After the first year of the project, Chuck [Nostrandt] and I talked, and he gave us an estimate of what it would cost to expand it. Now, we are connecting the library, the elementary school, the junior/senior high school, the Family Fare grocery store, the Shell [gas] station, A&W.” 

He continues:

“EZ Mart [BP gas station] and downtown were already being taken care of by Eric Anderson. He does Main Street; the first snow removal is paid for by every adjacent business, including the City in front of the parks, for instance. Every subsequent snowfall—like if it’s really coming down and he has to come back after lunch to clear again—the [Downtown Development Authority] pays him, and about three to four individual businesses do it themselves.”

As for the residential areas:

“We have a lot of neighborhoods in town, especially the west end, and we’ve had ‘block captains’ in the past who would snowblow their block,” Mills says. “But we haven’t had as much participation from homeowners on the east side of town. So we wanted to increase the walkability of the James Street corridor, and we wanted to monitor the expense and the success of the snow-removal program. We need a couple of years of data to average it, just because maybe last year was a milder winter than this year, or whatever.”

Increasing Walkability
Technically, individual homeowners in residential areas of the city are supposed to keep their sidewalks cleared, according to the ordinances. But, Mills explains, we live in a very season-based community, so it is hard to enforce that policy. 

“Sometime in the future, we’re going to have to have a conversation about this and how to enhance the walkability for the year-round community,” he says. “If we do snow removal for the whole city, does the city contract it out or buy equipment and hire someone; how does it work?” 

The City does receive some funding from the state through the gas tax, and some money is dedicated to trails and sidewalks, which must be maintained and cleared at a certain level, according to Act 51 through MDOT. But to clear sidewalks for the entire city would take quite a bit of funding that currently is not in the budget, so a community conversation would need to be had.

For now, the partnership with Nostrandt is about testing the waters—or the snow, so to speak. 

Mills is cautiously optimistic, based on responses that the City has already received.

“We had a ‘Safe Roads to School’ grant that allowed us to create sidewalks to and from the elementary school, to enhance the safety of that,” Mills explains. “Now we’re trying to do a better job long-term about enhancing the walkability in the winter, as well. After school, kids are walking between the two schools: sometimes an elementary student has to meet an older sibling at the high school. Or a lot of kids go to the library after school. Or sometimes junior high kids are walking to Family Fare or East Shore for an after-school snack before a game. There’s all kinds of reasons, and this helps to keep them safer.”

Furthermore, Nostrandt says, there are other members of the community who appreciate the sidewalks being cleared. 

“We get so many folks who walk their dogs, for instance,” he says. “And the City does such a good job of lighting up the streets at this time of year, when it gets dark so early. I love the new lights they have on Forest/M-22. People can walk in the evening hours and feel decent about not being in the dark; it used to be hard to see people. So yeah, safety is the main purpose of this project, and I think it’s going pretty well. I see a lot of folks using the sidewalks. And it’s such a blessing to have these new sidewalks; it would be a shame not to be able to use them year-round!”

Why does it matter if the sidewalks have recently been redone?

If a sidewalk gets off-kilter because of tree roots, for instance, it can wreak havoc on a snowblower, and vice-versa: the snowblower can cause additional problems to uneven sidewalks.

“I try to keep it cleaned up, but I also want to be respectful and not go out too much. My tractor is new and not super loud, but still; I want everyone to be on board with this project,” Nostrandt says. “It’s been a lot of trial and error the last couple of years to show what we can do, what we can expect. That way, maybe it can be talked about, and the people can decide it’s worth it. A lot of the homes in this area are summer homes or rentals, so they don’t necessarily take care of the snow like they’re supposed to; if you read the [city ordinances], they’re technically supposed to be done. But if we can get people on board, so everybody can use the sidewalks from one side of town to the other, that’d be great. It doesn’t take a ton, but a little homeowner effort can go a long way for safety; for instance, keeping the pruning of shrubs back, so it’s easier to get through.”

Nostrandt says it takes him 30 minutes or less to clear the sidewalks near the high school, because it is just whatever falls out of the sky. It takes him about 45 minutes to an hour to clear from the Benzie Shores District Library to James Street, because that route has multiple intersections with main roads like M-22 and M-115, where the snowplows deposit “roadslop.” 

“We greatly appreciate the connector for having a safe route for our kids to walk between the schools in the winter time,” says FEAS superintendent Jeff Tousley. “What I’ve noticed the most is that [Nostrandt] gets it every time. He’s really consistent and diligent about keeping the city cleaned up. He doesn’t miss a beat. It’s noticeable, like, ‘Whoa, we have sidewalks!’ It’s great.”

That is exactly what Nostrandt and Mills were hoping for when this project began a year ago.

“The goal initially was to enhance the walkability, and we focused on snowblowing these sections because of the schools,” Mills says. “We also wanted to evaluate the expense part of it, how well it’s been received and used. I can’t speak for City Council, but I could see us doing this city-wide: but how? Do we break the city down into quadrants, do we contract the labor? The city can’t afford to add staff year-round, so we’d have to look at various options, and the bureaucratic process takes time, but you have to ease into it and take time to make sure that tax money is well spent.”

He continues:

“We created more walkable, safe routes for kids. But it’s not just limited to kids. Our preference is that everybody uses [the sidewalks]. Our long-term goal is year-round walkability of the town through budget control, effective capital improvement projects, and expanded sidewalk development; the ultimate goal is to have a sidewalk on at least one side of the road throughout the city, and to make sure that we’re reaching out to as many neighborhoods as possible. For snow removal, we’ll have to have community discussion for how far that goes. Right now, we can manage the cost of what we’re doing; if we were to do the whole city, that’s a whole different ball game. But that’s our mission. To enhance the safe walkability of the year-round community.

For Nostrandt, it is simple: 

“I’m blessed to be able to live here and to call this work. I’m stoked just to be able to help out.”

CnN Property Care has around 90 clients currently—everything from lawncare service to power washing to window cleaning to treating roofs; they also take care of seasonal rentals and do house-checks while homeowners are gone. For more information, email CnNPropertyCare@outlook.com or call 231-645-1338.

Featured Photo Caption: Chuck Nostrandt has been snowblowing the streets of Frankfort for the past two winters. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.


What Is Next?
Mills says that the City already has plans to expand the sidewalks even further.

For 2022, there is a capital improvement project planned for this spring/summer to increase the sidewalk along M-22 to connect from Park Avenue (where Paul Oliver is located) to Maple Avenue (where The Maples senior care center is located) on the West side of M-22, where the Frankfort Methodist Church is located. Currently, the sidewalk ends just before Park Avenue; and there is even a sign to prove it.

A tribute to the beloved children’s book Where The Sidewalk Ends, there is a red sign with black writing with the book’s title located at the corner of Park Avenue and M-22. I asked Mills if he had informed the homeowners that their sign is soon to be outdated. He laughed:

“The current owners aren’t the ones who put the sign up. But they know [the new sidewalks are] coming.”

For the future, Mills would like to see even more sidewalks connecting important paths within the city limits, though there are no definite plans yet. 

“I’d love to someday get sidewalk along Michigan Avenue from the intersection with Park Avenue to George Street [at the Frankfort City-Crystal Lake Township boundary], because then you could bring in the Michigan Shores community, as well,” Mills says. 

He admits that there are a couple of “tight spots” near Michigan Shores where they would have to look at the topography to see what was possible and affordable. Likewise, he says that the slope of Heffron Hill would never meet ADA compliance, but he wonders if perhaps the City could find a way to enhance it from the current easement trail to something different—right now, the sidewalk on Michigan Avenue in town ends at Winnebago Street, and an unpaved footpath snakes along the road. (In the winters, this area, called “Heffron Hill” by locals, is closed to motorized vehicles and becomes a sledding hill.)

“It’s all positive movement in the community, a progression toward ensuring a year-round vibrant community that is welcoming for families and people of all ages,” Mills says. “That’s our mission. To create overall well-being.” 

City of Frankfort’s Snowplowed Sidewalks: 
Residential District: 

  • Started in 2020-21 Winter: 1,077 feet (Benzie Shores District Library to James Street, one side of M-22/7th Street/Crystal Avenue) + 1,800 feet (James Street from M22/7th Street to 11th Street, on both sides) + 430 feet (one side of James Street) + 1,081 feet (one side of 11th Street from the junior/senior high school to M-115/Forest Avenue) = 6,188 total linear feet
  • Added in 2021-22 Winter:  2,800 feet (both sides of M-22/Forest Avenue from 11th Street to 7th Street/Crystal Avenue/M-22) = 5,600 total linear feet
  • Paid for by the City’s general fund and major local streets in partnership with CnN Properties.
  • Business District: 
    • 2,700 feet (both sides of Main Street from 8th Street to 2nd Street)
    • Paid for by individual businesses and/or the Downtown Development Authority (DDA)
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Aubrey Parker

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