The Lasting Legacy of Hannah's Bark Park

When Hannah Simons-Scalise was diagnosed with cancer as a young teen, she told her mother, Lynn Simons, that she didn’t want to have a funeral; she would rather have her family’s money go toward a project that could benefit her hometown of Mt. Pleasant.

More specifically, Hannah asked her parents for “a place where dogs and people could run.” 

After hearing her daughter’s wishes, Simons and her husband, John Scalise, worked in tandem with the City of Mt. Pleasant and Union Township to start development on a dog park in Hannah’s name: Hannah’s Bark Park. 

Through the bark park project, Scalise and Simons helped to establish the Friends of the Dog Park community group. Scalise and Simons also donated $10,000 to fund the park’s construction. A portion of the donation came from Hannah’s own personal savings.

Hannah’s love for dogs and for the outdoors came from her time spent as an animal shelter volunteer and member of her high school cross country team. Simons says Hannah was always a very dedicated student, and she continued her schooling through the remainder of treatment.

Until the very end of her life, Simons says that Hannah was thinking about others. She was a kind and bright young woman who had a love for her community.

Today, Hannah’s Bark Park sees dozens of visitors every day, weather allowing. The park is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

It’s located within Mission Creek Park at 1458 N. Harris Street and is only accessible with a membership key fob. All dogs attending the park are required to register with the city and prove full vaccination status. 

Mt. Pleasant Parks and Recreation Director, Philip Biscorner, says these requirements often make visitors feel much safer in the bark park by letting them know each furry visitor has been screened and won’t pose a health threat. He also shares the park has remained a staple piece of recreation for the city.

“It's probably one of the few places you can let your dog go off leash, and that's kind of the big thing,” he says. “It's just nice to have that type of a facility for them to go to.”

The park is split up into two separate sides, Biscorner says – one for small dogs and one for large dogs. It also contains a small pavilion for much-needed shade in the summer, and a water fountain for both dogs and their owners.

The Friends of the Dog Park group has continued to maintain the bark park and add amenities to its landscape. Biscorner says some of the most recent Friends of the Dog Park contributions were lighting fixtures, allowing for safer visitation after dark. 

Simons says it’s a wonderful thing to see that Hannah’s legacy has continued in Mt. Pleasant, and that her vision has led to the creation of such a positive place.

Although Simons now lives outside the Mt. Pleasant area, she says she’s gone back to the park several times to see the local dogs and owners enjoy the space that Hannah helped to provide.

Hannah's Bark Park in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Photo Courtesy of Riley Connell.

Even on a chilly October evening, there were multiple visitors at the park, each bundled up in a coat, hat, and gloves, but still happy to be there with their pets.

Friends Haley Held and Morgan Petriko were visiting with their dogs Lucy and Layla, both huskies – Max, a black husky, and Mazie, a golden retriever. The pair says they take their dogs to the park until the ice and snow of winter come around. 

Pet owner Maria Sanocki said she always feels comfortable taking her dog Mowgli into the park, due to its requirements for entry. 

Retired Central Michigan University librarian David Ginsburg says his dog, Duke, is about 19 years old, but he still loves to run around with other local pets. Ginsburg says Duke is also known as the official sheriff of the park.

These visitors are just a few of many who have stepped foot into Hannah’s Bark Park, and they each say it’s always a busy location.

If Hannah could see what her park has become today, Simons says she has no doubt it would warm her heart.
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Read more articles by Riley Connell.

Riley Connell is a senior at Central Michigan University majoring in journalism and minoring in broadcast and cinematic arts. She has written for CMU's student-run publication Grand Central Magazine for two years and is now the editor-in-chief. After obtaining her degree, Riley would like to become a full-time feature writer. In her free time, Riley enjoys listening to music, trying new food, and collecting vintage clothing. She grew up in Metro Detroit and currently resides in Mt. Pleasant.