| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed

Parks : Development News

32 Parks Articles | Page: | Show All

Rapid Glance: October news bits from the City of Grand Rapids

On Oct. 3, HVAC renovations began at the Grand Rapids City Hall and Kent County Administration buildings, 300 Monroe Ave. NW. The $11 million project is expected to last through early 2020. Read more here.

On Oct. 4, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) welcomed 14 new police officers to its ranks. All 14 recruits trained in-house at GRPD over the past two months. The 14 officers fill vacancies created due to retirements over the past six months. Read more here.

On Oct. 8, The City of Grand Rapids announced it had received the Michigan Green Communities Network’s highest honor — gold certification — for taking on a wide range of environmental sustainability projects in the Michigan Green Communities Challenge. Read more here.

On Oct. 9, the City of Grand Rapids swore in new City Manager Mark Washington. “I am eager to be a Grand Rapidian,” he said. “I look forward to spending time with the City Commission, City staff, partners and community stakeholders to listen to their ideas and concerns and dig deeper into the issues that are important to our city.”

On Oct. 11, The City of Grand Rapids celebrated grand reopening ceremonies at Mooney Park, 314 Logan St. SE; Cheseboro Park, 951 Merritt St. SE; and Ottawa Hills Park, 2060 Oakfield Ave. SE. The $765,000 construction project at Ottawa Hills Park includes a fully universally accessible playground with areas for older and younger children.

On Oct. 18, the Grand Rapids Brownfield Redevelopment Authority announced a grant application submission to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a Brownfield site cleanup at 438 Stocking Ave. The site will be redeveloped as a BP/Meijer gas station adjacent to the Meijer’s Bridge Street Market. Read more here.

On Oct. 25 and Nov. 20, the Grand Rapids Police Department’s “Speed of Trust” initiative will pair off community members one-to-one with police officers for interactive trust-building sessions. Spots are available during morning, afternoon, and evening hours. To participate, residents and community stakeholders can email TrustGRPD@grcity.us. Read more here. In addition, GRPD has posted its Manual of Policy and Procedures online for the first time.

Residents voting via absentee ballot can stop by the Grand Rapids City Clerk’s office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as Thursday, Oct. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 28 from 12 to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 5 to 7 p.m.; or Saturday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at the City Clerk’s Office, 300 Monroe Ave. NW until 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5. Read more here.

On Nov. 1 at St. Alphonsus Church, 224 Carrier St. NE, and Nov. 15 at Baxter Community, 935 Baxter St. SE, the City of Grand Rapids invites residents for an overview of the new residential rental application fees ordinance (part of its Housing NOW! initiative) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Learn more here.

On Nov. 1, seasonal odd-even and same-side parking restrictions begin in Grand Rapids. Streets with restrictions have parking signs posted. More information here.

Through Nov. 6, The Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department invites community members to enter its competition to redesign and modernize park entry signs across the city. The competition is open to everyone. Learn more here.

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Roberto Clemente Park’s a natural: Two City departments collaborate on a remarkable park project

When the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department began planning extensive infrastructure upgrades to control stormwater runoff in the Godfrey Avenue/Rumsey Street area, they sought out an unusual partner: Parks and Recreation. Their inquiry of whether Roberto Clemente Park could be a part of their plan has inspired one of the most innovative city park renovation plans to date.

“A couple of years ago, when they asked if there could be stormwater storage in the park, lightbulbs started going off,” says David Marquardt, director, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. “We said, ‘yes, but let’s look at this together to build in some opportunities that not only benefit storm water runoff but also benefit park users.’”

The resulting design will make Roberto Clemente Park one of the most fun places for kids to enjoy natural play and outdoor learning. The design was inspired by Grand Rapids’ involvement as a Cities Connecting Children to Nature cohort, a program of the Children & Nature Network. Rain gardens, bioswales, and tributary streams that cleanse and manage stormwater will double as educational sites and natural play areas. Students from adjacent Southwest Community Campus school will be able to walk down the steps to new outdoor classrooms.

“We started initial public outreach with the neighborhood and got some good feedback and direction,” Marquardt says. “This is a unique and distinct opportunity for Roberto Clemente Park, not only in building in some typical park improvements for this park space but doing so, in part, with the Department of Environmental Services.”

That community feedback has inspired several of the planned improvements. The existing skate park’s new elements will include connecting skate paths throughout the park. Reconstruction of the existing soccer field will improve drainage and extend the playing season. A new picnic shelter will give families and community members a place to host meals, parties, and events. An approved basketball court and bike racks are also part of the plan.

“Community members have had a lot of good ideas,” Marquardt says. “What I always find inspiring is community members’ stories, their deep interest in these park spaces, and how they can become more relevant for them as they think about using them with their families and their friends. These ideas aren’t necessarily coming from the Parks department but from the people that use these spaces, which is always the way we prefer to do our work.”

Marquardt notes that Parks and Recreation will host an upcoming series of community meetings to gather even more input from residents living near the park. If grant funds from the Michigan DNR come through in December of this year as hoped, construction on the project will commence the summer of 2019—and will take about six months to complete. The Department of Environmental Services will provide roughly $900,000 of the estimated $1.6 million price-tag. Between $300,000 and $400,000 will come from City millage funding and the remaining funding coming from grants.

“Since the millage passed in 2013, the City has invested roughly $8 million of those park millage dollars. While that is significant, what is inspiring is that we’ve leveraged those $8 million to capture another $4 million of outside funding to support park improvement projects,” he says. “Partnerships with the Michigan DNR, the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services, local nonprofits, and private partners have really helped carry these park improvement projects so much further than we could go with park millage funding alone.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation


GRPS Launches Rebuild Sigsbee Park Crowdfunding Campaign

At $8,315, the crowdfunding campaign to “Rebuild Grand Rapids’ Sigsbee Playscape” is about halfway to its June 30 matching fund deadline of $29,500 (the first $10k earned will be matched by an anonymous donor)—which, if met, will earn the project an additional $29,500 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places initiative.

Also known as Southwest Academic, the building space next to Sigsbee Park used to be part of the Grand Rapids Public School district and is now home to a number of community programs including the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative for preschoolers and the Spectrum Baby Scholars program. The adjacent playground—or Sigsbee Park—is now what’s classified as a “school park,” making it a community park of choice open to the public and members of the surrounding Eastown neighborhood.

“In the heart of every great community is a place where neighbors gather. Sigsbee Park and Playground is that place,” says Grand Rapids Public School Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. ”We are eager to partner with the community to realize a shared vision of a bright and appealing new playground for the children, students and families of Eastown Neighborhood to play and thrive."

However, with playground equipment well past its peak beginning to fall into disrepair, plans to remove it are slated for this summer, threatening to leave a partially empty lot in its place and prompting organizations including The Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, Carter’s Kids, Lake Michigan Credit Union and Grand Rapids Public Schools to partner with the MEDC to raise funds for its reconstruction.

The refurbished playground will include a new swing set, a play structure with a slide and climbing area, dragonfly and stock cary play pieces, outdoor learning benches, and a new safe, engineered wood fiber surfacing.

“Sigsbee Park and Playground has clearly been loved by Eastown Neighborhood families for many years,” says Dan Gilmartin, CEO and executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, one of the organizations behind the Public Spaces Community Places initiative alongside collaborators at the MEDC and Patronicity.

John Helmholdt is spokesperson for the GRPS, and says though some members of the Eastown community have expressed concern over the lack of communication between organizers of the project and community members, it was all a matter of timing, with funding falling into place and the project taking quick steps forward in order to finish construction before the preschool re-opens to students in the fall.

“We’ve been talking about Sigsbee and other parks for quite some time. We got a call from ELNC in the spring saying their federal licensing came in and some of the equipment is out of compliance and it needs to go, so at the point, it began to expedite things and we said, ‘this is happening sooner rather than later, before the summer,’” says Helmholdt, adding that shortly after, LMCU reached out to the organization offering to donate $65,000.

“It all happened very fast and we weren't sure how much money was available or whether we would be eligible for the state matching dollars until literally a few weeks ago,” he says, adding that GRPS has been in contact with the Eastown Community Association and its parks and greening committee more recently on the project, and so far has received their full support.

Right now, Helmholdt says GRPS is fighting a past record of negligence on the property, making some neighbors worry they may lose their voice in the matter as they felt they have in the past. However, he also says this GRPS—the one who met with the ECA’s greening committee, LMCU, ELNC, and the city’s parks department last night to discuss neighborhood engagement opportunities—is a much different GRPS than the community might be used to.

“GRPS sees Sigsbee as truly an opportunity to right some past wrongs and to re-engage with the neighborhood to redevelop this site as a school yard and neighborhood park,” he says. “We have been 100 percent transparent and forthcoming and will continue to do so. We certainly own and recognize how this property has not received the attention it needs nor have we been the best neighbors in the past. But that was then and this is now.”

To stay tuned about upcoming engagement opportunities for Sigsbee’s rebuilding, visit the Eastown Community Association online or here on Facebook. For more information on the project, or to make a donation before the June 30 deadline, visit the Rebuild Grand Rapids Sigsbee Playscape’s project page on Patronicity.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation

Blandford Nature Center celebrates Earth Day with grand opening of new visitor venue

When Blandford Nature Center began designing its new 11,000-square-foot visitor center, it intentionally left out the kind of museum-style features often seen in more traditional nature center welcome spaces. Instead, the center wanted the space to serve a more practical role in the organization’s cardinal mission to connect more people with more nature. 

“A building doesn’t make a nature center; the nature does,” says Jason Meyer, President and CEO of Blandford Nature Center (BNC). “We settled on the idea that the the building is just one more tool in our toolbox for getting people to connect with nature, and so we didn’t really want to incorporate dead stuffed animals and a lot of those physical displays that you might see in older nature centers.” 

A crowd of nearly 400 people came out for the Earth Day ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of the new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center grand opening, hearing remarks from the building’s namesake, BNC Founder Mary Jane Dockeray, as well as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Costing $3.3 million of the total $10 million in funds currently raised in the final stretches of a larger $10.3 million campaign launched in fall 2014, the new LEED-certified visitor center includes an open interior lobby with a stone fireplace, a large auditorium, an outdoor amphitheater, and an upgraded Wildlife Education Center showcasing decorative wood features made from trees that were already harvested as part of the construction process. 

Initially built in 1968, BNC’s former visitor center was outdated, lacking in handicap accessible design and generally overdue for an update, says Meyer. The organization decided to move forward with a fundraising campaign to afford park upgrades after the center began having to turn away local school groups interesting in doing programming because of insufficient space.

With its fundraising campaign slated to wrap up this summer, Meyer says Blandford Nature Center is looking forward to turning its focus to an even bigger renovation project — restoring the 121-acre Highlands Golf Course at 2175 Leonard St. NW, which BNC purchased back in January in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. 

With the Land Conservancy of West Michigan currently heading up some of the initial fundraising, the two organizations are starting to explore how best to transform the new acreage into a public green space that enhances both Blandford’s educational programming and outdoor recreational opportunities, first focusing on restoring the lands natural habitat. 

“A lot of it is habitat restoration. We want to put types of habitat back that are gone from this part of Michigan,” Meyer says, adding that plans include the addition of new trail ways connecting back to the nature center’s existing trail system. 

Meyer says restoring an outdoor recreation space that effectively double Blandford’s outdoor green space, however, requires a bit of al lengthier process than the construction of a new visitor center, relying the slow inedibility of nature to take its course in regrowth. 

“It’s going to be a 50- to 100-year project,” Meyer says, ”And folks will be able to see that change over time that happens with nature reclaiming itself.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Blandford Nature Center 

Related articles:
Blandford Nature Center breathes new life into Highlands Golf Course with plans for recreation space

Blandford Nature Center breathes new life into Highlands Golf Course with plans for recreation space

After operating for more than 100 years as a private golf course, The Highlands Golf Course at 2715 Leonard St. NW was back on the market, with the new proposed land use initially leaning toward a housing development.

However, thanks to a partnership between Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan with support from Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit The Conservation Fund, Blandford Nature Center obtained a $3 million short-term loan to purchase the 121-acre property. With the funding, Blandford plans to transform it into a new community green space for recreation and education.

“The Highlands offers an extraordinary opportunity to foster a stronger connection to the natural world through habitat restoration, environmental education, volunteerism, and recreation—all things that will make sure that our city is a great place to learn, live, play and work for generations,” says Jason Meyer, president and CEO of Blandford Nature Center, an independent, charitable non-profit that has a mission to “engage and empower the community through enriching experiences in nature.”

Joe Engel, Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, says moving forward, Blandford will work alongside his organization and the surrounding community to secure funding for the repayment of the loans and continue with plans for future use and improvement of the property.

“We are off to a great start, with generous grants from the Ken and Judy Betz Family, the Wege Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Cook Foundation,” says Engel, whose organization will be taking the lead role in raising funds for the project. “We look forward to continued support from the entire community to help bring this project to fruition as it transforms from golf course to natural area.”

Third Coast Development and Pioneer Construction initially obtained an option to purchase the golf course to build condominiums and homes on the site, but the companies are now working alongside both land conservationists to help financially back Blandford’s project.

“Once we started talking to Blandford about the future of the property, we realized that sometimes development needs to take a back seat to an idea that benefits our entire community,” says Brad Rosely, partner at Third Coast Development.

The project’s first phase will include land acquisition, biodiversity studies, and preparation for initial public access while working to pay off the short-term loan, at which point the Land Conservancy will take ownership of a portion of the property. After gathering input from the surrounding community, the second phase will be the launch of habitat restoration projects, trail development, and public programs.

Mary Jane Dockeray, founder of Blandford Nature Center and former board member of the Land Conservancy, says the old Highlands Golf Course represents Blandford Nature Center’s last and only chance to expand in Grand Rapids and create additional educational and recreational opportunities not available elsewhere in the city.

“The community of Grand Rapids has been waiting patiently for something like this to come along—we will be able to serve more students, families, and friends as a result,” she says.

Visit Blandford Nature Center here on Facebook, or find Blandford online at blandfordnaturecenter.org.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Blandford Nature Center

No victory too small: Eastown residents, ECA hope for a more welcoming Sigsbee Park

When all was said and done, it only took about half the day on Sept. 14 for volunteers to tear down the chain-link fence that loomed six feet tall around the two-acre lot at 1250 Sigsbee St SE — a surprisingly quick job for a project that was, by most accounts, surprisingly tough to tackle. 

“For the community, it was something that people had been wanting to have removed for a while because, for that part of the neighborhood, Sigsbee is the go-to park,” Marisa Sandahl, who this past fall was at the tail end of her tenure as Eastown Community Association’s executive director, says of the fence that was keeping residents from accessing otherwise useable parkland. 

Former home to Sigsbee Elementary School, the corner lot fenced both the old educational site and its surrounding playground and green space. Once the building was no longer being used as Sigsbee Elementary, the space was officially reclassified as a “school park” and renamed Southeast Academic in partnership with the Grand Rapids Public School District, leaving it open for wider use as a public green space. 

“It’s a green space that was fenced off,” says Sandahl, adding that the fencing made it difficult to tell that the space was open to the larger community, which kept the space from living up to it’s full potential as a significant public green space and gathering space for the whole community

For years, residents rallied alongside the ECA to have the fence removed, and whether due to a breakdown in communication, changes in organizational leadership, or just opposing ideas of what the space would ultimately be redeveloped for, the project was repeatedly tabled. 

Finally, Sandahl found her window of opportunity this past September, when she worked with a volunteer coordinator from United Way to bring in additional volunteers who had the manpower and heavy machinery necessary for unearthing the fence from its cemented pillars, leveraging the organization’s annual Day of Action to rally residents one last time.

“It’s really thanks to their advocacy, as well as their tenacity, [that got] it done. They lined up the volunteers, and we were able to give the green light,” says GRPS Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs John Helmholdt, whose district is operating with a renewed focus on reconnecting local schools with their surrounding neighborhoods thanks to new leadership under superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.  

“The old GRPS way was one where it was always head down, say no to everything; and I hate to say it, but that’s how we were,” Helmholdt says. “We were not community-facing in our decision making and not sensitive to needs of neighbors, so that has been a dramatic and very positive shift — one you can really see and begin to feel throughout the city.” 

And for Sandahl and other Eastown community members, having public green spaces that are readily accessible — the kind that have the appearance of welcomeness and act as a nurturing gathering spaces for all neighbors — is one of the most important needs for the area. 

“It’s a really big thing that sometimes feels small, or sometimes you don’t notice it when you’re missing it, but a lot of things within communities are like that,” Sandahl says. “They don’t feel like huge things, but when they are done, it makes a difference to the whole community. “

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Eastown Community Association

Adored Boutique opens East Hills retail space with hopes of paying it forward

As far as owner Emily Smith is concerned, the decision to open the new Adored Boutique and follow a career into retail wasn’t ever something she actively intended to work toward, but rather something she began to understand over time. 

“I was really restless in my career, and I was on a mission trip in Cuba, and the trip was really surrounded in this idea of just loving on women and reminding them that they’re not alone,” says Smith, who opened her 1,200-square-foot women’s clothing store, Adored Boutique, Dec. 1 at 968 Cherry St. in East Hills. “Every woman we connected with (during the trip) would get something to call her own that was special and feminine and made her feel good and made her feel loved…By the time I left that trip, I understood that I needed to change my career and that it involved opening a women’s boutique and over time God really just fine-tuned it in me.”

Then, almost one year ago, Smith said she was singing the hymn “O Come Let Us Adore Him” at her church’s Christmas service when she was struck with inspiration for Adored Boutique, which features contemporary apparel, shoes and home goods exclusively from vendors who are ethical manufacturers, many of whom employ individuals who were victims of human trafficking or other forms of exploitation. 

“It was really about just taking each step at a time to understand it, so I started researching ethical manufacturers — and I didn’t really know that word, ethical manufacturers, but I kept searching and finally started making connections with those vendors,” says Smith, adding that the one thing these vendors all had in common was a focus on creating employment opportunities for women who recently escaped poverty, sex trafficking, or other forms of exploitation  

After signing a five-year lease in October, Smith began renovating and moving into the space just last month, whipping the former hair salon into shape with help from her interior designer sister and longtime friend and contractor who assisted with the build-out. 

Committed to partnering with local and global organizations that have missions to directly or indirectly support the rescue and restoration of victims of human trafficking, Adored Boutique gives back 15 percent of its profits to charity partners on local, regional, and national levels. 

Now nestled on the corner of Cherry Street and Lake Drive, Smith says the revamped retail space fits right in with not only the vibe of her new neighborhood, but also with its residents and other entrepreneurs in the ever-growing business community. 

“I will say that every single business owner in this community has just been genuinely welcoming and encouraging and supportive, and I would say the same about the people who live in the area and have come into the store,” she says. “It’s such a positive atmosphere.” 

For more information about Adored Boutique, its vendors, or what charities it contributes to, visit Adored Boutique online here.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Adored Boutique 

Park Crawl: Grand Rapids celebrates re-opening of four neighborhood green spaces with public tour

In celebration of the recent completion of $2.5 million in renovations to four Grand Rapids parks, city commissioners and officials, park contractors, neighborhood leaders, and students from Sibley and Mulick elementary schools will gather today, Thursday, Nov. 3, for a grand reopening tour of the revamped green spaces.

Starting with Douglas Park at 301 Lexington Ave. at 9:15 am, the tour — which is also open to the larger public — will then caravan to Dickinson Park (1640 Willard) at 10 am, Mulick Park (1632 Sylvan) at 11 am, and finish the tour with Camelot Park (2230 Rowland SE) at 11:45 am. The tour will stop to explore and check out new features at each park. 

“It’s wide open to the public, and there will be a number of school children attending the Douglas and Dickinson Park tours,” says David Marquardt, director of Grand Rapids’ Parks and Recreation Department. “The schools were really gracious and good about working with us to bring some kids to this grand opening and be part of the excitement.” 

Among the new park features include new picnic shelters, restroom facility improvements, playground enhancements, new walking paths, new landscaping, ball field upgrades and new site furnishings, including benches, bike loops, drinking fountains, and trash cans.

Funding for the $2.5 million renovations was made possible by the 2013 Yes! GR Parks millage, which was approved by 60 percent of voters and generates about $3.8 million annually for park improvements. 

A number of renovations on other public parks, including Cherry and Wilcox parks, have already been completed and include water fixtures like splash pads, to boot. 

“All of this results from the 2013 citizen passed and approved tax millages for the parks,” Marquardt says. “ It’s the whole reason we’re here now, and it’s the community input that brings forth all the ideas we’re unveiling during this next round of park openings.” 

For more information, visit the Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation department online or find them here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation 



Related articles: 
Yes! GR Parks millage passes

Dream green: What do Grand Rapids parks need?

Ground breaks on eight neighborhood park renovation projects with 'watchful eyes' on progress

Parks with benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park
 

Canines & community: Downtown Muskegon Dog Park brings camaraderie to vacant lot

The triangle-shaped piece of land at 793 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon has been vacant now for almost 18 years, with the site sitting empty after the former Carpenter Brothers warehouse was destroyed in a fire back in 1998. 

Downtown Muskegon Now Event Coordinator Ellen Berends calls the .7-acre plot of land a “relatively undevelopable” one — but she says that’s also what makes it so perfect for Muskegon County’s first-ever off-leash dog park. 

“It’s an odd-shaped piece of property that is relatively undevelopable, so it seems like the perfect place to have a public gathering space,” she says. “…Rather than leave it empty, it was time to make it useable.”

Plans for the dog park include separate areas for large dogs and small dogs, agility equipment like bars and tunnels, natural grass turf, doggie drinking fountains, a grooming area, and picnic tables and benches. A groundbreaking date for the canine-friendly space is expected to fall sometime next spring in time for a summer grand opening. 

Developed through community-wide collaboration, the new Downtown Muskegon Dog Park is currently wrapping up a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign through the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity. Campaign leaders hope to close the fundraising gap by the Sept. 30 deadline in order to receive matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) through its Public Spaces Community Places initiative. 

“It’s an all-or-nothing campaign through MEDC, so we’re pretty sure that we’ll be just fine and we’ll have our campaign done and fulfilled by the Sept. 30 deadline,” Berends says. 

The park was also one of five dog parks in the nation to receive a $25,000 grant from PetSafe — which develops pet behavioral, containment and lifestyle products — through its Bark For Your Park program, which park organizers will celebrate with a community gathering on Sept. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the future site of the new dog park. 

It’s a preface to what Berends and the projects other backers see as one of the biggest benefits to building a dog park in downtown Muskegon — a way for members of the community to come together and connect with each other, aided by a common interest and a safe public space in which to gather. 

“Dog parks are proven gathering places for a community, and it’s a great place to get to know your neighbors,” Berends says. “Dog parks are very important  in the neighborhoods of now, where it isn’t very open and we keep to ourselves a lot of the time, because they can bring some camaraderie to a community.”

Click here to learn more about the Downtown Muskegon Dog Park or to make your own contribution to its crowdfunding campaign or visit the Downtown Muskegon Dog Park here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now 

Grandmother's efforts bring first-ever playground to Holland State Park

With four days still left in its Patronicity crowdfunding campaign, Holland State Park beach has exceeded its $17,000 goal by $2,000, qualifying it for matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places program for the construction of a new public playground there. 

With nearly two million visitors annually and no formal playground structures other than a single swing set for children to play on, a Holland grandmother and retired preschool teacher, Sally Starr, connected local organizations Carter’s Kids, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Lakeshore Advantage, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to rally behind the project. 

MEDC Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki says supporting community-led and driven projects is what the Public Spaces Community Places program was created for. 

“This project is an excellent example of that citizen leadership transformed into supported developments, and we are pleased to partner with, and provide resources to, this effort,” she says. 

The new playscape will include the installation of three new slides, two sets of monkey bars, four climbers, two spinners, and a crawling tube. 

The park will be constructed by a team from the nonprofit charity Carter’s Kids, and the nonprofit economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage provided support through developing the marketing and supporting the fundraising strategy. 

“Holland State Park is an incredible community asset that attracts visitors from all over the world,” says Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens. “The investment by the MEDC and community in this playground will ensure the thousands of kids who visit the park on a daily
basis can truly enjoy this shining example of Pure Michigan beauty.”

For more information on the Holland State Park beach playground project, visit its crowdfunding campaign here on Patronicity. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lakeshore Advantage 

Dream green: What do Grand Rapids parks need?

No matter how far a reach, or how out-of-the-box an idea, Grand Rapids’ Parks and Recreation Director David Marquardt says over the next two days he wants the public to tell him exactly what they want to see happen with the public parks in their neighborhoods — especially the ideas that dare dream big. 

“What we’re shaping these public outreach efforts around following this weekend is the ‘make a wish’ slogan,” says Marquardt, who will gather alongside fellow city officials, community leaders, and members of the public for the first of two open houses hosted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Make a wish for your park. If you could have anything in your park, what are the sort of things would you like to see?”

A good example, Marquardt says, is Grand Rapids’ Mayor Rosalyn Bliss, who during her recent State of the City address called attention to the growing importance of public parks in the future development of the city, saying she is committed to ensuring that, in the future, there is a public park within walking distance of every child in the city.  

“That’s a huge deal,” he says. “That’s a big goal, and it’s a bold goal, but it’s one I’m very excited to get behind.”

The open houses come as a precursor to the department's upcoming task of developing the new five-year Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which builds on the sweeping transformation already underway following residents' stamp of approval on implementing a seven-year dedicated parks millage to provide an estimated $30 million in funding for repair, rehabilitation, and new improvements to parks, pools and playgrounds. 

Coming back into focus

Tracey Flower is Executive Director at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, which was founded in 2008 as an independent, citizen-led nonprofit that operates separately from city government while still working closely alongside it to identify specific park improvement initiatives, generate resources, and mobilize people to help project and enhance public spaces and parks throughout Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

Flower says you don’t have to look much further than the millage approval for proof that parks are becoming more important to Grand Rapidians, who aren’t alone in the collective refocusing of urban communities on public parks — it’s something that’s been happening for the past decade or so nationwide.

“I think that people have largely…really started to wake up and realize how critical and how valuable setting aside those public spaces are to the health of the community. We’ve even been seeing a lot of discussion over the past few years in terms of research about how important it is for children to have an opportunity to engage with nature and learn in nature,” Flower says. 

“I think there is value in everything from having playgrounds where kids can be creative and interact with, to having an opportunity for everybody in general to engage with each other in those public green spaces, which is especially important in an urban setting where so many living spaces don’t have that kind of space," she continues.

Parks get schooled on tapping full potential

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks reports that in 2014, the city of Grand Rapids had 74 city-owned parks in its entirety, totaling 11,595 acres of land earmarked for parks, recreation, and open space holdings within city limits. 

As far as unofficial public parks go, the total amount of space and ownership status are a little less clear, but those are all the kinds of things the city hopes to figure out through discussions with not only the public but also community partners — and none are more relevant than the Grand Rapids Public School District. 

GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt says that over the past few years, the district has been working consistently alongside the city in a commitment to sustainability goals, which have a lot to do not only with maintaining green space and increasing tree canopy, but finding ways to make the most of all of the underutilized outdoor areas.

“A lot of discussions center around utilization of land owned by GRPS — which is great in number and geography throughout city,” says Helmholdt, using the example of Coit Park, which sports a City of Grand Rapids sign and is treated like a public space, but is legally owned by the district. 

Greater than logistical strategizing, Helmholdt says, are not only the avenues the district can open to the city for using outdoor space, but also the ways the city can facilitate educational opportunities in their outdoor spaces, too, an idea re-enforced with a recently awarded $25,000 planning grant from the National League of Cities to fund efforts focusing on reconnecting children with nature. 

“We’re required to teach the core content standards, also known as Common Core, but how can we incorporate environmental education alongside that natural play? For example, when we’re doing physical education at schools like the Grand Rapids Public Museum school, which has no indoor gymnasium, we have to engage kids in outdoor activity in spaces,” Helmholdt says, noting that is where public parks like Ab-Nab-Awen Park can facilitate whole new ways to engage students outdoors. 

He says he hopes that over the weekend the parents of students in the district will feel motivated to attend the open house meetings and join the discussion, seeing the process very fittingly, as anyone who deals in knowledge might, as an opportunity to learn. 

“It’s a learning experience. It’s an opportunity for children to understand the role of government, the role of public opinion, and to have a vested interest as civic leaders in what’s happening in their neighborhoods and city,” he says. “Kids can relate to a discussion about how we can improve playgrounds and really, they know our playgrounds better than any adults do…It’s important students be engaged, and recognize that they have a voice, and that their voice will be heard, and that action will be taken as a result.”

The first open house will be held at 122 Division Ave. SE on Avenue for the Arts First Friday beginning at 6 p.m., with the second held Saturday from 8-11 a.m. at the Fulton St. Farmers Market, located at 1145 Fulton St. E. Can’t make it? Click here to fill out an online survey with your thoughts or find the form using Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation website.

To learn more about cool programs like Parks Alive or the Urban Forest Project that are happening right in your collective backyard, check out Friends of Grand Rapids Parks online or find them on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation 


Related articles:


Parks with benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park

Ground breaks on eight neighborhood park renovation projects with 'watchful eyes' on progress
 

Ground breaks on eight neighborhood park renovation projects with 'watchful eyes' on progress

After two months of neighborhood workshops, community meetings and master plan revisions, renovations that seek modernize and update eight neighborhood parks are finally underway this week throughout downtown Grand Rapids, including Cherry, Fuller, Garfield, Highland, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Westown Commons and Wilcox parks. 

“We did sort of a grand unveiling of the plan in early December and those plans are very much informed by those different neighborhood groups coming together and talking about their priorities for the parks in their neighborhoods,” says Executive Director Steve Faber of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, who worked alongside the Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Department and Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Advisory Board to host the series of eight workshops that hoped to help with the response to a 60 percent voter approved property millage designated for parks, pools and playgrounds and expected to generate an additional $4 annually. 

Neighborhood Planning Teams were formed with residents from each park's neighborhood and teamed up with local design firms VIRIDIS and Progressive AE to help verify concept plans 
and identify improvement priority projects for each park based on what the neighbors there said they wanted or needed during these community forums. 

So, for Garfield Park, a new basketball court and more open places for groups to gather together win the first priority projects, while six out of eight total parks are pushing to create an accessible water resource through a "splash pad" or water playground. 

“You want to have the overall context of the plan in place, but focus on the top priorities specific to each neighborhood park,” he says, adding that while for Garfield Park that means a new basketball court and more places to spend time in groups, for six out of the eight parks receiving renovations, the "splash pad" or water playground was given top priority as a new, accessible water resource for the community members living there. 

Other reconstruction plans include updating equipment and facilities, including replacing or restoring restrooms, drinking fountains and playground, expanding or installing rain gardens, walking paths, path lighting and benches, improved green space, hard surface courts and fields, and new tree plantings. 

Faber says because of the community meetings, neighborhood residents are still engaged with the renovation projects even while construction is underway, sometimes calling him to offer a quick update on progress across the street. 

“We’ve got some watchful eyes out there now that these projects have broken ground,” he says. 

The projects all have varying competition dates, but all new amenities are scheduled to be ready for use by mid-August. For more information on individual park upgrades, or to see the entire Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Master Plan and Green Grand Rapids Master Plan, visit www.friendsofgrparks.org or grcity.us. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks/City of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation 

Related articles: 
Parks with benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park

Cherry Park welcomes new public ice skating rink

Amid continued frigid temperatures and abundant snow, some Grand Rapids residents are finding the silver lining in the polar vortex with Cherry Park's newly completed ice skating rink. The East Hills Council of Neighbors hosted a Winter Party on January 25 at Cherry Park, located at 725 Cherry St. SE, to celebrate their recently completed rink. They hope the rink will give community members who brave the cold the opportunity to enjoy an urban neighborhood park during the winter months.

"In the winter time you see a lot of your parks full of snow and not being utilized," says Matt Stephens, an East Hills community member who was enjoying the ice rink with his family. "It's a great space to utilize a little better with an ice skating rink or snowman competitions or whatever. It’s a great opportunity all the way around for kids to get out and play a little bit and have some fun."
 
Public skating rinks, which were once popular in Grand Rapids' communities throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, fizzled out of popularity in the past few decades. The East Hills Council of Neighbors hopes to return to a time when both ice skating rinks and urban parks were an incredible community resource.
 
"[The park] is an active option for people to participate in a four season neighborhood. Cherry Park is open year round and the ice rink really helps to promote that," says Rachel Lee, an East Hills Council of Neighbors representative.
 
The opportunity to establish the Cherry Park Ice Rink was provided by Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. The rink was built with the sponsorship of neighborhood businesses like Brewery Vivant and Urban Pharm. Individual donors were also encouraged to sponsor the effort and dozens of skates were donated for rental in support of community skating.
 
"It's just another amazing collaboration of how business and neighborhood come together to make something happen for the community," says Lee.
 
John Wiegand is an intern at Rapid Growth Media.
Photos by John Wiegand.

Planning for walkable, thriving public spaces: East Hills takes steps toward a sustainable future

Monday night a group of about 30 residents from the East Hills Council of Neighbors (EHCN) neighborhood gathered to hear the first draft of a plan that will form a framework for the neighborhood's public spaces: parks, streets, sidewalks, and business districts. The meeting was the culmination of a year of information gathering by two committees: the public space committee chaired by resident Rachel Lee, and the complete streets committee, chaired by resident Josh Leffingwell.

"We're looking at creating a possible area specific plan where pedestrians come first," says Rachel Lee, adding that the planning is funded by a $45,000 grant from the Dyer-Ives Foundation. The idea for the plan came about last year when the neighborhood's Cherry Park landed $10K from mygrcitypoints.com for a park makeover.

Ted Lott, architect and partner at Lott3Metz Architecture, and Mark Miller, urban planner at Nederveld, Inc., led the discussion and gathered ideas from attendees. Lott began the meeting by saying that there is "planning fatigue in the city" and, therefore, the focus has been to use information already gathered by others and to add to it with ideas from the neighborhood residents.

The neighborhood, bounded by Fulton St. on the north, Union Avenue on the west, Wealthy St. on the south, and Fuller Avenue on the east, includes two large public parks: Cherry Park and Congress School Park. Brainstorming possible improvements generated ideas that included lighting, a new water play area (Cherry), new public-friendly fencing at both parks, electrical connections for events usage (Cherry), bike racks, a skating rink, a possible dog park area, board games spaces, more shade, an amphitheater for public and school events/outdoor classroom (Congress), and improved soccer and track facilities (Congress).

Ideas for pedestrian-friendly streets included considerations for Congress Elementary, the East Hills business district, and residential streets. Ideas included sheltered bus stops, safer crosswalks, more brick streets to add character and slow traffic, four-way stops in lieu of traffic lights, and parking improvements.

Redevelopment ideas ranged from identifying places that need redevelopment or infill buildings to promoting economic diversity by encouraging a greater variety of retail businesses.

Lott says the next steps are to meet with the EHCN to review the ideas and develop the next steps of the plan, which will be presented at the EHCN annual meeting at 6:30 p.m., October 21 at the Inner City Christian Federation building, 920 Cherry St. SE.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Two downtown parks seek new ways to honor Grand Rapids' casualties of war

Two downtown Grand Rapids parks honoring the area's military who died in wars dating from the Civil War through Operation Iraqi Freedom and the War in Afghanistan are part of a study to determine how to upgrade the aging parks and include spaces of reverence for the war memorials there.

A steering committee comprised of residents, veterans, and city parks and recreation leaders has begun the task of assessing the condition of the landscapes and war memorials in Monument Park (northeast corner of Fulton St. and Division Avenue) and the adjacent Veterans Memorial Park (bounded by E. Fulton on the south, Park NE on the east, Library St. on the north, and Sheldon Avenue on the west).

According to steering committee chairman Christopher Reader, the project proposes to gather recommendations from monument preservation specialists, landscape designers, and the public.

"The area around the monuments is kind of like a sacred space," Reader says. "You want it to be special and different. How do you delineate between the sacred space and the public space? How do you tell the story of the conflicts that the memorials represent?"

Monument Park features a monument to the Civil War and a series of historical plaques. Veterans Memorial Park has monuments to WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Purple Heart monument, a bust of Longfellow, a bust of Grand Rapids philanthropist Thomas D. Gilbert (a driving force behind the creation of Monument Park), a fountain, a concrete plaza, and lights -- all of which are aging. Many have been vandalized.

"The community's expectation as to how those spaces may want to function in the future may look different [than when the parks were built]," says Jay Steffen, director of Grand Rapids parks and recreation.

"We want to honor the veterans," Reader says. "That's our first priority."

Public focus group meetings are planned for November. More information, including dates, locations, and progress, will be available soon on a website accessible through the city's planning department web page.

Source: Christopher Reader, Parks Steering Committee; Jay Steffen, Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
32 Parks Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts