Auburn City Park becoming the heart of the community

For the residents of Auburn – the quiet Bay County village nestled neatly between Bay City and Midland – their signature city park is more than just a recreation and entertainment facility.

“We’ve always wanted the park to be a gathering place and a focal point of the community,” said Auburn Mayor Lee Kilbourn, “and we’re always looking for ways to make it more meaningful for our residents and people around the community.”

Through the efforts of Kilbourn, City of Auburn Administrator Dave Haag, the town’s Downtown Development Authority, and many others, the Auburn City Park is steadily evolving while becoming the town centerpiece its leaders envision.

A $750,000 pavilion was constructed inside the park’s 20 acres in 2017 and is a multi-functional facility that can host everything from ice hockey to graduation parties.

This summer, the city renovated the entrance to the park to make it easier and safer for traffic to flow in and out of the park.Earlier this month, the park’s entrance was completely re-done to, in part, make for more efficient and safe traffic flow in and out of the park.

Next up is a plan to reconstruct the park’s one-mile-long recreational pathway. Funding for the $130,000 project includes an $18,000 grant from the Bay Area Community Foundation. Haag says the pathway project represents the “missing link” for major park improvement projects.

“It’s a beautiful park with many great facilities but the existing path has deteriorated in a such a way that it’s turned to gravel in some places,” said Haag. “We also want the new path to connect all of the facilities within the park.”

While a start date for the path renovation project isn’t set, Haag said he hopes work will begin within a year.

The city is preparing to improve the one-mile-long recreational pathway that links all the facilities in the park.Beyond just repairing the pathway’s well-worn surface, the project also includes plans to re-route certain sections of it to help it connect more easily with the park’s facilities. Haag said the new path would meet all Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance regulations.

Kilbourn said the new path will be from 6 to 8-feet wide and spacious enough for easy foot traffic in both directions, and that drainage will be added to certain areas along the path.

The project also includes plans to install new benches and picnic table near the park’s playscape area, thanks to a $23,000 grant from the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation.

The pathway represents another step forward in the overall vision of making the City Park an even more attractive focal point for Auburn’s 2,000-plus residents and others in neighboring communities.

“We have a small downtown,” Haag said, “so the park has become the meeting place for our community by default. But we also bring in people outside of Auburn. We pull from Freeland, Midland, Bay City, and also from communities to the north of us.”

The park includes the new pavilion as well as its original, smaller pavilion. There’s also a fishing pond, baseball and softball diamonds, picnic shelters, horseshoe pits, a playscape/playground area, volleyball and basketball courts, an ice rink, and a sledding hill.

The pavilion and park building is available for use all year and offers heat during the winter, several picnic table and round tables, a kitchen area, a meeting/conference room, and basketball courts.

“That’s a major structure that a lot of people make use of,” said Haag. “You can go by there every day and see people using it, whether it’s kids playing basketball or people using it for other things.”

Improvements to Jaycee Drive, the main entrance to the Auburn City Park, were completed this summer.The pavilion also hosts the Auburn Farmer’s Market, which meets Tuesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. This year’s farmer’s market runs from June 4 to Sept. 26.

“We don’t have a ton of vendors now but it’s growing,” said Haag of the farmer’s market. “We’re always open to getting new vendors, but we’re also conscious of not competing directly with other farmer’s markets in the area.”

A floating dock was placed in the park’s pond in the fall of 2018 to complement fishing piers also located around the pond. Fishing in the pond was enhanced a few years ago thanks to a dredging project that created two 18-foot deep areas.

“We found out that the pond was only four to five feet deep in most places,” Kilbourn said. “As a result, the fish never had a chance to get bigger.”

Fishing is restricted to catch-and-release only.

While swimming isn’t allowed in the pond, Haag said many people utilize it for kayaking.

The park also serves as host to the town’s ever-popular Cornfest, which includes a carnival and rides and many other events, including musical guests.

"We have a small downtown, so the park has become the meeting place for our community."
- Dave Haag, Auburn City Administrator

Last winter, a Christmas lights display was set up within the park for the first time, and Haag and Kilbourn said they expect it to become even bigger in the future.

Both Haag and Kilbourn give plenty of credit to Auburn’s DDA for helping to secure funding and many other contributions to the park’s ongoing improvement projects.

“They deserve a lot of recognition because they’ve been very supportive our efforts and helped provide financial support,” Haag said. “They do a ton of things for us.”

Meanwhile, plans for the park continue to evolve and residents can expect further enhancements and events in the future.

“I could see us having one major event each month,” said Kilbourn. “It could be a concert, or another type of event, but that’s something we’d like to happen.”

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