Plaster Creek Family Park receives mParks award: GRPS students contributed to design

In September 2019, the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department joined Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) in giving residents a sneak peek at improvements underway at Plaster Creek Family Park, 2401 Buchanan Ave. SW. Improvements at the park were completed in August 2020.

On February 2, 2021, the Michigan Recreation & Park Association (mParks) will present the project with its 2021 Park Design award. Among 35 award winners in nine categories, Plaster Creek Family Park is the only awardee on the west side of the state. Criteria included project purpose, local significance, innovation, aesthetic quality, and functionality.

“We would not have been able to have such great success without GRPS,” says David Marquardt, the city’s parks and recreation director. “Their teachers, principals, and students continued to step up and show up.”

When asked which Plaster Creek Family Park features got mParks’ attention, Marquardt credits the park’s design process and sustainability aspects.

“The design was done with the input of student and youth voices. First, we engaged with half a dozen students in the process. We put them together with the design consultant. And students led the [design] evaluation — we looked at 1,411 student surveys,” Marquardt says. “From the sustainability aspect, the play spaces are built with old tree limbs, logs, and stumps that the Parks department Forestry Division would have ground up for mulch.”

Other sustainability features include a native meadow and expansive rain gardens, which serve as infrastructure for handling stormwater runoff. In addition, The Nest, an outdoor classroom overlooks the park near Burton School. Other park features include accessible pathways and athletic field improvements.

In addition to GRPS, the Plaster Creek park project involved partners City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services, Our Community’s Children, the Wege Foundation, and the Children and Nature Network.

The park will be back in the headlines in May when it serves as the site for this year’s Mayor’s Greening Initiative (MGI) May 1 kick-off event. In partnership with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (FGRP), volunteers will plant 50 new trees at the park that day and give away 100 trees to neighbors at the park May 8.  Friends has plans to plant 250 more trees in the Burton Heights neighborhood adjacent to the park in October.

“We really wanted to add trees to the Burton Heights neighborhood and we have this amazing new park to feature, so we submitted the location and received overwhelming support from Mayor Bliss and the city,” says Stephanie Adams, executive director of FGRP.

The Plaster Creek Family Park is one of four partnerships between the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). The goal of all four is to create green schoolyards in park-deficient areas. Other sites include Brookside Elementary, Buchanan Elementary and Sigsbee Park.  

“Sigsbee is under construction and will be completed next season. We are excited to see that play-space come to life,” Marquardt says. “Buchanan was completed last construction season. Brookside was completed in 2020.”

Partnerships, like those that made Plaster Creek Family Park possible and matching-funds grants made accessible by the passage of the Parks millage again in 2019, continue to enhance Grand Rapids’ green spaces, giving more residents of more neighborhoods access to healthy outdoor activities.

“The passing of this millage in 2019 was significant. It really attests to the support that this community has shown, time and again, for its park system,” Marquardt says. “Having a more than 70% approval rating sends a pretty clear message to the Parks department that the community likes what we are doing. We are thrilled and very excited to be embarking on this next round of improvements.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department
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