Spring Lake's award-winning waterfront park

Eager to become a destination for boaters, the village of Spring Lake is making the most of its peninsular natural assets — by installing transient docks, kayak rentals, and creating an award-winning waterfront park. 

The Michigan Downtown Association recently named the village’s completion of Tanglefoot Park as the Best Placemaking Project Over $1 million.

Destination Spring Lake: The Ottawa County village of Spring Lake, population 2,500, covers about one square mile on a peninsula formed by the Grand River on the south, Spring Lake on the north and Lake Michigan on the west. It’s not surprising, then, that anything water related — boating, kayaking, SUP, fishing — is a draw for tourists, says Christine Burns, village manager.  

“We have a lot of people from Chicago who visit the village, as well as people from all over Michigan,” Burns says.  “We are fortunate enough to live where everybody else vacations.”

The park project: Tanglefoot Park is a great draw. It features a pavilion with glass garage doors, a catering kitchen, and bathrooms. The Tanglefoot Park pavilion can accommodate events for up to 300 people and is available to rent for private and community events. When the pavilion is not in use, park visitors are welcome to enjoy its shade.

The park’s new Splash Pad is surrounded by grassy areas for picnicking. The park also offers an outdoor fireplace, public art, and a fishing pier.

The Spring Lake Farm and Garden Market, managed by the local chamber of commerce, sets up at Tanglefoot Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays, June through October. 

Transient boat docks are available on a first-come, first-served basis for a fee of $10 per day and boaters can walk anywhere in the village from the central dock location, Burns says, and restaurants, bars, and stores can all be found within a few blocks of the transient slips.  

In 2022, the village installed a universally accessible kayak launch so people of all abilities can enjoy natural amenities.  “We have recently installed kayak lockers for people who are using our water trail (the Grand River) and have a number of art installations spread throughout the community,” Burns adds. “This spring, visitors will be able to rent kayaks from a kiosk at Tanglefoot Park to explore the waterways. 
The back story: At the turn of the 20th century, the William Thum family gave riverfront land to the village of Spring Lake with the understanding that the land would be open to public use. The Thum family made their riches selling Tanglefoot Fly Paper, which prompted the name of Tanglefoot Park. Prior to 2019, the park turned into an RV park to generate revenue and attract visitors; boat docks were available for seasonal rental. However, this made the park only open to those who had seasonal RVs and not the general public.

In 2018 and 2019, the village hosted community engagement meetings and brought together a focus group of Spring Lake residents to gauge the level of interest in plans to renovate the park to make it accessible to all. The vision was to reclaim the waterfront park with views of the Grand River and to make it a community space for events, weddings, and more.

How was it funded: A capital campaign began for this $3.5 million project. Some $1.5 million was raised in private donations and the rest was covered by various grants. The project was completed in June 2022, and the park has been a hub of activity ever since then, Burns says. “We have been blessed with a couple of very successful capital campaigns and the DDA has taken a very active role in curating these amenities as well as providing funding for them,” she says.  

What are people saying: Stefanie Herder, Spring Lake’s Downtown Development Authority director, says she is thrilled for the Tanglefoot Park project to be recognized by the Michigan Downtown Association. “To have us chosen over the many incredible projects that other communities have completed is special and it means a lot to the village,” Herder says.

Still to come: “We will continue to expand our art installations and improve our public spaces,” Burns says. “We are working on the installation of 16 bike racks downtown to encourage people to walk, bike, jog to our quaint little downtown.”

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years.
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