Park it: The history, design and endless uses of Midland's neighborhood parks

Does the idea of a relaxing picnic in the fresh air appeal to you? Do your kids love to swing, climb, and run at the playground? Is a friendly game of baseball or kickball more your scene? Or maybe frisbee or a game of fetch with your dog?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you are in the right place! Midland is home to an abundance of neighborhood parks, also known as pocket parks. And if you haven't taken advantage of these unique local gems yet, you’ve been missing out. 

Neighborhoods developed before the 1970’s were required to set aside a portion of green space for public use.

Midland’s neighborhood parks date back to the design and development of the city. Prior to the 1970’s there was a city planning policy in place requiring a specific minimum percentage of new residential development land to be set aside for public green space or public park land. These are the spaces where you’ll find that pocket of green grass and more to enjoy. Neighborhoods that have been established after the 1970’s were not required to set aside this space. 

Today, there are 46 neighborhood parks within the city of Midland, spanning a combined total of 146 acres of land. They range in size from half an acre to 13 acres. The majority of the parks are in the five to seven-acre range.

Nelson Park in Midland.

The pocket parks are centrally located in the interior of neighborhoods and are meant to service the people that live in homes bordering and surrounding the area. They can only be accessed through private yards or public walkways in between houses and there is no vehicle access.

Amenities offered vary from park to park and include basketball hoops, play equipment, soccer goals, backstops and benches. The parks are designed to be low maintenance and require little more than caring for the grass, which is done through a combination of in-house and contracted mowing services.    

The proximity of these parks to people's homes creates a sense of ownership and pride in the parks. Many community members find that these spaces provide the perfect and unique opportunity to unite neighbors. In addition to having a safe place for children to play, these spaces also create great areas to host block parties and neighborhood sports games.  

Bring your hammock, dog, kids and more to enjoy these spaces.

Some community members enhance their neighborhood parks by planting fruit trees, planting flowers, establishing free libraries, creating mini disc golf courses and even showcasing art.

Of course, pocket parks are also great for outdoor events. Many spaces have help host weddings, graduation parties, and birthday celebrations. Easter egg hunts also take place in these beautiful public spaces. 

Manor Park in Midland

Midland residents, Dan and Hayley Stepaniak, have had the pleasure of living next to a neighborhood park for the past seven years. “My husband and I love having our house back up to a pocket park. We get the feel of a huge backyard without the mowing and yard work. We also enjoy the extra privacy of not having a house right behind us,” says Hayley. “Our neighborhood kids use the park as a play area and our daughter enjoys the swing set. Neighbors also use it as an informal dog park.”

Nancy Blasy lives adjacent to Manor Park and says they often use it as an extension of their yard and neighborhood. "We've enjoyed living next to this park since we bought the house in 1989," says Blasy. "We've kind of taken it on as a nice extension of our yard."

Nancy Blasy lives near Manor Park and enjoys the space often.

Karen Murphy, Director of Public Services for the City of Midland explained that some neighborhoods have gotten pretty creative with the use of their parks. Crane Park has hosted a fancy croquet match complete with sun bonnets and straw hats! Some have even take advantage of their parks in the winter time by sectioning off and flooding a space to be used as a neighborhood ice rink. 

Community members have contacted the City of Midland Parks and Recreation Department with ideas for improving their local park. Recently, a local Eagle Scout worked with the department to design a wood chipped walking path in his neighborhood pocket park that can now be enjoyed by the rest of the community for years to come. 

Dartmoor Park in Midland

“We love to see our parks in use and encourage the creativity!” says Murphy. “The only activities that are not allowed in our neighborhood parks are fireworks, activities that damage the park or it’s amenities, or those that exclude anyone else’s use of the park.” One question that the city receives often has to do with community gardens. “Unfortunately, we cannot allow community gardens because they are more of a permanent change to the park and too invasive to the land.” 

Other than those minor limitations, most activities are encouraged, explains Murphy.

Grab a friend and go today!

“Contact us if you have a question about what can or cannot be done in your neighborhood park,” she says. ”We can also help with the planning of your occasion! Community members can get permits for the city to drop off and pick up picnic tables and trash cans for events.”

Head to cityofmidlandmi.gov/938/Parks-and-Recreation for contact information or to learn more about the great things happening in Midland’s neighborhood parks.

Wyndemere Park in Midland

Another less commonly known design of Midland’s pocket parks has to do with water drainage. “The parks are generally a bit lower than the surrounding properties,” explains Karen. “This is intended to pull water from residential properties and help with flooding.”  

“It’s a common call that we receive every spring when people are concerned with the standing water and the resulting tall grass. It’s an unfortunate side effect, but this is a feature by design to keep water out of people’s yards.”         

There are 46 neighborhood parks in Midland, all not accessible by car.

Those that love their neighborhood parks have given a hand in preserving them. This spring, the City of Midland Parks and Recreation Department has partnered with Keep America Beautiful, a national campaign that promotes volunteerism in the community. The mission of Keep America Beautiful is to inspire and educate people to act every day to improve and beautify their community environments. The program strives to end litter, improve recycling and enrich community spaces. 

The City of Midland encourages all community members to take part in the campaign by joining with Keep America Beautiful and their Great American Cleanup, held on the first day of spring each year.

They range from a half acre to over 13 acres in size and all have different amenities.

Volunteers can join together with their neighbors to clean up sticks and litter, help to remove invasive species, and report any maintenance needs. The city provides trash bags and gloves for the event. Visit www.kab.org/ for more information on the campaign and www.kab.org/our-programs/great-american-cleanup to gear up to help out with next year’s Great American Cleanup right here in Midland! 

The options for enjoying a spare hour or two in the city are truly limitless. Grab your portable hammock and your favorite book and head to your neighborhood park for some fresh air, reading, and relaxation. Encourage the kids to grab their choice of sporting equipment and some neighborhood pals and head out for a friendly game (that's sure to be enjoyed by window and back porch spectators from all around). Get to know your neighbors with a park potluck block party. Make your dog’s day with the toss of a tennis ball and the open space to run.

So go park it in a neighborhood near you this summer.

So next time you’re craving a getaway but too busy to plan an out of town vacation, or want to plan a neighborhood event, but you’re not sure where to start, you don’t have to look far. Lucky for you, these pocket parks are plentiful, beautiful, and available in many cases – quite literally – in your backyard! 

Signup for Email Alerts