Parks are an essential element to any vibrant community, providing recreation, gathering space, and when properly cared for, a sense of pride and community for those who frequent them.
Located in Midtown, 5.2-acre Grove Park has a storied history. It was home to Midland's first high school, before the building was destroyed in a boiler explosion in 1908. New school buildings eventually replaced the original, then in 1957 the public school system had outgrown the space, deeding the property to the City of Midland.
A prime example of what has become a great partnership between Midland Public Schools and the parks department, the plot was sold for just $1, with the stipulation that the grounds be used as recreational space in perpetuity.
Since that time the space has served as more of a passive park, lacking the types of amenities expected from a space of its size. Over the years at times it’s been hit by crime and littering. The park was stagnant, but there was also a lot of potential, especially with its location in Midtown. While the Midland Parks Department hasn't wavered in their upkeep of the space, they admit it hasn't exactly been well-utilized. That is, until now.
Grove Park gained new playground equipment this summer. Before the upgrades at the park, the amenities were minimal for a park of its size.
This summer, the park gained new playground equipment, an upgraded outdoor basketball court, small gazebo, fencing, and landscaping. Future upgrades will include restroom facilities, additional parking, paved pathways, and a larger gazebo.
"I think it was clear that the space didn't have much heart or soul," says Marcie Post, recreation manager for the Midland Parks and Recreation Department. "We knew it didn't have the same reputation as our other larger parks, and something needed to change. With so many parks in Midland County, it really just came down to funding. Thankfully, a variety of organizations stepped up to reinvigorate Grove Park."
Parks and Recreation staff scoured the commercial market for an entryway, but couldn’t find one that was sturdy or unique enough. So the team built and installed a custom piece on their own.
One of those organizations was the Midland Noon Rotary Club. As discussions grew in 2019 around how it would celebrate its 100th anniversary (April 2020) of service to the community, the idea of adopting a park quickly went to the top of that list. Midland Parks and Recreation staff were contacted, Grove Park was selected, and a master plan was developed for the space, with the Midland Noon Rotary Club committing $160,000 to the renovation.
"We were looking for a project for our 100th anniversary that would really be a meaningful gift to the community," says Sharon Mortensen, past Midland Noon Rotary president and chair of the Grove Park Committee. "This area has seen a lot of development recently with Live Oak, the new Central Park Elementary School, and others. It's an area that had seen some neighborhood deterioration in the past, and we wanted to do our part in helping to build it up."
The community also played a role in the park’s revitalization. In early 2019, Midland residents were invited to a planning session for the space. Post says the session attracted more residents than usual, and she was pleasantly surprised by the feedback.
A new outdoor basketball court was installed over the summer at Grove Park.
"Several residents of the Midtown neighborhood didn't want to lose the open spaces of the park — more of those passive recreation opportunities," says Post. "We learned that restrooms and additional parking were needed. It also became clear that the basketball courts not only needed to stay, they needed serious work. So with that public feedback, a master plan was created to give us kind of a wish list. Since then, funding has come in from a variety of sources."
Memorial Presbyterian Church, located just a short walk from the park, donated $7,500 for an archway at the park's corner entrance. The Midland Area Community Foundation approved a $100,000 grant request for new and updated paved pathways, ground-level solar lighting, trees, and other landscape improvements. A Community Development Block Grant for $30,000 was awarded for a variety of equipment purchases.
On a personal note for Post, who has worked for the Midland Parks Department for over 13 years, a group of friends raised money for a memorial tree on the property in honor of her late son Julian, who passed away at just 11 weeks old in 2018. She was surprised by the gift last year, which was planted this summer.
A group of friends raised money for a memorial tree on the property in honor of Parks and Recreation manager Marcie Post’s late son Julian, who passed away at just 11 weeks old in 2018.
"For me personally, this park will have a special place in my heart forever," says Post when asked about the memorial tree. "Losing a child was the hardest thing I've ever been through, and knowing there are people in my corner willing to help keep his memory alive in this way, it's just a really cool feeling. I can't wait to make memories at Grove Park with my family — especially in the shade of a certain red maple."
Renovations are being completed in phases. As soon as construction was permitted this year following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, crews got to work on the first phase, which is now complete. The majority of work was done in-house by parks department staff, saving the city an estimated $50,000.
Grove Park gained new playground equipment this summer as part of the upgrades at the Midtown park.
"I can't speak highly enough of our parks and recreation staff," says Post. “The archway, fencing, and playground equipment was all done by our team. Wherever we can, we'll keep costs down by installing components ourselves."
A major pathway dissecting the middle of the park is up next on the construction agenda, with funds already secured from the Midland Area Community Foundation. Following that phase, the larger gazebo, restrooms, and parking area will follow.
"This is the definition of a community improvement project," said Post. "By the community, for the community. We're really proud of how this project came together, and look forward to the Midtown neighborhood continuing to grow and change for the better."