Pinconning park upgrading for kids and dogs

Two very different types of bark will become more prominent in the city of Pinconning very soon.

Pinconning City Council has approved development plans for a natural playscape featuring tree bark and a dog park sure to generate vocal barks.

Natural playscape planned inside the Doc Letchfield Park

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) leads the natural playscape project. The SBLC has been providing outdoor recreation opportunities for the region since 1997.

Natural playscapes give kids the chance to have fun, nature-based experiences.“We've done everything from tear up a three-acre parking lot and replaced it with a riverside nature preserve in downtown Saginaw, to taking over a county park here in Bay City that used to be called Euclid Linear Park, and now is known as Discovery Preserve where we provide programming and all sorts of nature-based experiences, including a nature-based playground, which was the inspiration for us to build another one at another site,” said SBLC Executive Director Zachary Branigan.

Through a grant, the SBLC has been able to reach out to municipal leaders in the region, offering to help improve outdoor spaces.

“Lots of local units of government around here don't have the same revenue they used to, and things like parks and open space are the first things to often go,” said Branigan.

Pinconning city officials contacted the SBLC after seeing a presentation at a Rotary Club luncheon. Eventually, the SBLC and city partnered to add a natural playscape next to the gazebo in Doc Letchfield Park.

“It makes use of the trees that are there. There's shade and it's still adjacent to the parking lot,” said Dawn Hoder, Pinconning City Manager and Treasurer. “It gives more opportunity to the children in the city and township.”

Nautral playscapes are catching on around the country. The National Wildlife Federation cites research indicating that children play with more "vigor, engagement, imagination, and cooperation," in natural landscapes than in artificial environments. The Federation says natural playgrounds even reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder and depression.

SBLC Associate Director Lisa Cleland said the new space will allow kids to interact with nature in a way traditional parks don't offer. 

“Kids don't have as many opportunities to get out and to play in nature as they once did. They don't have the free play of playing with sticks and jumping over logs,” Cleland said. “There will be natural features of logs, sticks, boulders and different things to play with, but it's going to be there in a deliberate manner. We will have a feature of a large bird's nest made out of sticks that kids can sit in.”

The nest is being funded by the Michigan Baseball Foundation and will be called Lou E’s Nest in honor of the Great Lakes Loons mascot. Other portions of the playscape have received funding from Bay Area Community Foundation’s Northern Bay Fund and the Youth Advisory Committee, Northwoods Wholesale Outlet, and Great Lakes Shark Sock Company.

Construction of the almost 1,200-square-foot natural playscape is expected to begin in early September.

Willow, at left, and Belle enjoy the Doc Letchfield Park in Pinconning now.Dog park coming to the Pinconning Nature Trail

If you take a stroll through the city streets of Pinconning, it won’t be long before you hear the call of man’s best friend. Thanks to a Fido-friendly woman, pups will soon have a safe and expansive place to run, play, and sniff each other’s butts.

Leading the pack is the Northern Bay County Fund and its co-chair Tina Bauer – owner of Bittersweet Quilt Shop & Home Decor, 624 W. Fifth St. in Pinconning, and Bittersweet Vintage Retreat, 216 E. Fifth St. in Pinconning. They are planning the transition of an open area at the back of the Pinconning Nature Trail into a doggie sanctuary.

Bauer and the Northern Bay County Fund are planning the transition of an open area at the back of the Pinconning Nature Trail into a doggie sanctuary.“There is a one-acre parcel in the center of that property that is completely field and it's not being utilized. We already have a children's playground at Doc Letchfield Park. So this area is a perfect location for our dog park because there are no homes connected to that piece of property,” said Bauer. “And a lot of dog owners are looking for places to stop and let their dogs run, so they can be off leash.”

After putting together a presentation and an artist's rendering of the park, the city council approved the plans in June. The park will be divided into two sections. One for dogs 40 pounds or more and the other section for smaller dogs. Bauer is now working on funding for each phase of this three-year project.

“Our Phase One goal is to get in the parking lot, the restroom area, and fence in both sections of the dog park,” said Bauer. “In our second phase, we're looking at putting in the benches for people to sit, possibly a shaded area as well and plant a few trees. Our third phase we would like to put in a few obstacle courses for the dogs.”

Bauer sees many customers come into town from beyond Michigan. A number of them travel with pets. At her shop, she has a small space for the pets to roam, but Bauer believes Pinconning wants to offer more to its visitors.

“We want people to realize that Pinconning has a lot to offer. It's a small-town community, but we do have people in this community willing to put in the time and effort it takes to beautify the whole area,” Bauer said.

Organizers hope that the dog park eventually will include benches, an obstacle course, and shaded areas, making it attractive to visitors from outside Pinconning.Hoder also hopes the dog park will attract people from outside Pinconning.

"I'm a dog lover and I think it will help get outside residents to venture into our city. Eventually, we'd like to put signage out by the expressway about the dog park to encourage more flow through the city,” Hoder said.

News of the dog park is exciting to many.

 “A dog park here in town would be awesome!” said Angie Juarez, a Pinconning resident and dog owner.

“Dog parks can act as a gathering spot for owners and handlers. They bring their pets to the park to get exercise and socialize with other pets, and dog owners do the same thing. So, while the dogs are playing, community members are more likely to form relationships, exercise and participate in conversation with other people,” said Bauer.