There has always been significant value in the parks, but since the quarantine resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been driven outdoors, motivated to find new opportunities for recreation.
In their search, many have discovered their local parks and developed a newfound appreciation for them. Parks offer more to communities than an area to walk your dog or sit at a picnic table with many recreational opportunities all year long such as camping, disc golf, sledding, biking, swimming, and kayaking.
“It's definitely been something that particularly this year we have seen grow,” says Sue Ann Kopmeyer, Director of the Isabella County Parks and Recreation Commission. “People are really seeing that this is a valuable service to have open spaces and other outdoor recreational uses.”
A kayaker begins takes in the sights at Deerfield Nature Park.
"Deerfield Park is really great for hiking, biking, canoeing or kayaking," says Chris Rowley, Executive Director at the Mt. Pleasant Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). "A lot of people either launch or get out at Deerfield Parks."
There are eight county parks in Isabella County: Coldwater Lake Family Park, Deerfield Nature Park, Herrick Recreation Area, Lawrence A. McDonald Wildlife Sanctuary, Majeske Landing, Maynard S. Gilmore Park, Meridian Park, and the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.
Chris Rowley, Executive Director at the Mt. Pleasant Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), says there are over 1,000 acres of parkland in Isabella County, including both city and county parks which each have their own park system.
“Outdoor recreation has been really popular and what everyone has been seeking out this year,” says Rowley. “Our parks are definitely one of those great assets that we can promote.”
Park visitors cross a suspended bridge at Deerfield Nature Park, located on Remus Road in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Deerfield Nature Park, located on Remus Road in Mt. Pleasant, has two 18-hole disc golf courses which draw disc golf enthusiasts from all over. The site hosts various disc golf tournaments put on by the Mount Pleasant Disc Golf Club.
“We have seen a whole new population,” says Kopmeyer. “With the university here, people tend to stay in town, but I know that disc golf has gotten more people of college age to discover Deerfield Park because of the popularity of disc golf.”
In addition to disc golf, during the warmer months, many visitors enjoy the beaches at the county parks. Coldwater is the only public campground that's on an all-sports lake, and Kopmeyer says they were unable to open until late June this year due to COVID-19.
Cabins at Coldwater Lake Family Park are one-room, rustic cabins that overlook the lake.
“Camping was definitely a frequent inquiry, when we were going to open up for camping,” she says. “Even before COVID-19, camping has definitely grown in popularity over the last 20 years. Coldwater has been around since the ‘60s, so grandparents who were kids then are now bringing their grandkids camping. At times, over 60% of the people we have camping are local residents. They're within our county boundaries, but for them it still feels like a getaway.”
“Coldwater does a great job with their campsites, and they draw visitors in from all over,” says Rowley. “They have a great swimming area and playground area right on Coldwater Lake.
Coldwater Lake Family Park is a 28 acres park and campground located in Weidman, Michigan.
"We pack a lot in that little park," says Sue Ann Kopmeyer, Director of the Isabella County Parks and Recreation Commission. "Our campgrounds are not huge, but Coldwater particularly is the only public campground that's on an all-sports lake, so it's great for people who like to have a big body of water or boat."
For a small fee paid annually through license renewals, Michigan residents are able to bypass entrance fees to state parks and recreational areas through Recreation Passports, which are gaining in popularity.
“It’s gone up a little bit every year because people are realizing that it's better to buy an annual sticker,” says Kopmeyer. “Five daily visits costs more than a $25 pass, even four days would be $24. So why not just get a pass so you don't have to pay each time?”
Kopmeyer says she likes that more people have discovered the parks and found value in them as a place to socialize safely and recharge.
“We have always known that that it's a valuable piece of a community,” says Kopmeyer. “It's very much a part of our lives, more than we realize, and we just found that really accentuated with the COVID-19 situation with more people wanting to get out of the house.”
A playground area is located beside the pavilion and bathhouse at Coldwater Lake Family Park.
Mt. Pleasant resident Carol Anderson often utilizes the parks, particularly the trails with her frequent companion, an energetic 9-year-old husky named Thor.
“I like all of our parks, but Coldwater is our favorite,” says Anderson. “It’s 20 minutes away if you want to get out of town. You can be there and back, but you can go and just take a break and it’s not that far away.”
Anderson’s family uses the parks year-round and she loves to take her grandchildren sledding when it snows during the wintertime at Deerfield Park’s sledding hill.
A man fishes in the Chippewa River at Deerfield Nature Park.
Kopmeyer says that while not as many people venture out to the parks during the wintertime, there are plenty of opportunities in the parks for winter activities such as the sledding hill, ice fishing, and about six miles of groomed cross-country ski trails at Deerfield Park.
“People don’t stop utilizing the parks in the wintertime,” says Kopmeyer. “They can put their hiking boots, or snowshoes, and use the parks pretty much all year long.”
For more information about Isabella County Parks and recreation opportunities, visit isabellacounty.org/departments/parks-recreation.