Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Eastside series.
Eastside residents will have the opportunity to enjoy new improvements in the two neighborhood parks this spring.
With a new basketball court, two sets of playground equipment (one for younger children, and one for older children), new walking pathways, exercise equipment, and picnic tables, Rockwell Park, located at 1106 Trimble Ave., is available for everyday use and gatherings, and Pat Taylor, Director of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association, says she hopes the park will be well-used.
“It’s a nice large park on the edge of the city limits,” says Taylor. “We’re looking forward to families using it and are encouraging residents to do activities there.”
Not originally part of the City’s Imagine 2020 Plan, Taylor says residents and members of the Eastside Networking Group (ENet), advocated for the park’s improvements. “It was not on anyone’s radar,” says Taylor, who adds she’s grateful the city sought additional funding for the park upgrades.
Originally a Works Progress Administration project during World War II, the park is listed on the historical registry. In recent years, Rockwell had fallen into disrepair, and parents were concerned about allowing younger children to play there due to the close proximity of the basketball courts to the playground equipment.
“Some of the parents suggested moving the basketball court to the other side of the street, away from the equipment,” says Taylor, “and it just made sense.”
The park is divided in two by Trimble Avenue. The move of the basketball courts also makes the courts more usable, Taylor says, because previously, they flooded when there were heavy rains.
Expansion of the bathrooms and lighting improvements are forthcoming. Taylor says she is hoping that the Parks and Recreation Department will run programs at the park once those improvements are made. She says that KENA also plans to move National Night Out back to Rockwell, where it was held in the past.
“It’s coming along nicely,” Taylor says of the improvements. “I’m impressed that something that wasn’t on the city’s radar has turned out so well.”
The Eastside has two city parks. The second, Sherwood Park, 300 Wallace Ave., is wooded and mostly a “passive park,” Taylor says, though it also saw some improvements last year during a Summer Spruce Up organized by Building Blocks and the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. Those enhancements included mulched landscaping, the addition of flowers, picnic tables, and a new park sign.
Parks are a vital “socialization component” for city neighborhoods, says Taylor. “They are gathering spots that are not in the middle of the street, places where folks feel comfortable and can relax without feeling they have to entertain at their house.
“When you see people from down the street playing with their kids, you can connect and find something you have in common. That informal type of communication and connecting gives residents the opportunity to talk candidly about things that are of concern to them. And then maybe they will bring the issue to the neighborhood or resolve it themselves.”
And everyone, Taylor says, needs fresh air. “I’ve always been a big proponent of parks.”