Where can you find some fresh air? The Kalamazoo Department of Parks and Recreation has space

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series and our ongoing 
COVID-19 coverage.

UPDATE 4.6.2020: 
City of Kalamazoo parks will be closed starting Tuesday, April 7 to protect public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Signs will be installed at City parks to notify community members. Anyone one that continues to use parks in violation of this closure may be subject to removal by Public Safety or other law enforcement action. This step is being taken after large gatherings were observed in City parks over the weekend. Residents are reminded that it is critically important to follow all guidelines provided by health officials, which include avoiding large gatherings.

It’s something your parents and teachers have told you for years – be sure to go outside to get some exercise and fresh air.

But in the wake of the coronavirus, and faced with orders by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for all but essential personnel to stay home from work and school, that advice now comes with a twist – find your own piece of the great outdoors and avoid others while you’re out there.

“Visit any park,” says Sean Fletcher, director of Parks & Recreation for the city of Kalamazoo. While some suggest a walk around the block, Kzoo Parks (the Parks & Recreation Department for the city of Kalamazoo) has a bigger idea. 

“I think the important thing is to get outside and move,” Fletcher says, suggesting a visit to any of the city’s 30 public parks and greenspaces.

“We have big parks in the system like Milham Park and Spring Valley Park,” he says. “Those are big spaces where people can move around and not have to worry about seeing lots and lots of people.”

A list of city parks is available at the Kzoo Parks website found here

National Public Radio reports that while some people have been shamed online for going outside to exercise (at the risk of catching or spreading the virus), there is nothing in the White House coronavirus guidelines that prohibit it.

“So unless local guidelines instruct otherwise, fresh air and outdoor exercise are allowed – though it’s important to keep some distance between yourself and others,” npr.org reports. “The coronavirus is thought to spread primarily through contact between people – within about six feet.”

The folks at the Kalamazoo Nature Center agree. While it’s important to maintain that “social distancing” in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Lisa Panich, director of marketing and communications for the Kalamazoo Nature Center, says there’s nothing wrong with being outdoors if it’s done with that in mind. And she said, “There’s nature nearby everywhere if you look for it.”
Nature Center staffers are all working remotely, "but we’re still here for our community online,” she says. “We’re encouraging people to go outside to get that all-important dose of vitamin D, along with all of the many other health benefits realized by spending regular time outside.”

The Nature Center is a private organization that is not among the essential businesses safeguarded from closure in the governor’s special order. As such, it has announced plans to be closed to the public through April 13. As part of that, it has closed the 14-miles of nature trails that are adjacent to its main location at 7000 N. Westnedge Ave. As efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus ramped up about two weeks ago here, the trails had been open free of charge for the general public to use. They allowed space for people to be active outdoors and still maintain social distancing.

“We had a really great response,” Panich says. “People were just thrilled. So it was very sad for us to have to close them.”

Nature Center staff members continue to put together online activities that help families, children, and adults to explore nature. Those activities may be accessed at the Nature Center’s FaceBook page here or look for the “Nature Now” page link on its web .
Among other things, the Nature Now page provides links to online activities offered by museums such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Field Museum in Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Fletcher says to get the benefit of being outdoors, it’s not necessary to work up a big sweat. But he says it’s good “If you can get out a couple of times a day (for, say, 30 minutes) and get in a nice run or jog, play with your dog in the park. It doesn’t take a lot.”

His department says sunshine, fresh air, and peaceful surroundings have been shown to decrease stress and anxiety and give people a boost. But precautions need to be taken.

Among precautions included in the governor’s Executive Order No. 2020-9, issued Monday (March 23), is that hands-on equipment in parks are closed for use, including playground equipment, exercise equipment, and picnic pavilions that have tables. 

Fletcher says the city is working to stay in tune with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as orders from federal, state, and local authorities. 

In the meantime, all Kalamazoo city parks and green spaces remain open to the community and "We encourage you to seek solace in the great outdoors while practicing social distancing and other habits to help keep you, your family and our community safe," Kzoo Parks states on its website.

For those unfamiliar with the city’s many parks, Fletcher calls attention to one park in each section of town that is large enough to allow individuals to avoid running into lots of people. They are:

Frays Park--In the northwest corner of the city, he described Frays Park as a "nice, small, Westwood Neighborhood park" with a walking path and, when usage bans are lifted, a playground area, a tennis court, and a Pickle Ball court. 

Sherwood Park--In the northeast, he described Sherwood Park as “a nice little park that a lot of people don’t know about.” Located in the city’s Eastside Neighborhood, he says, “It’s got nice little wooded areas and is great for walking.”

Hayes Park--In the southeast, he described Hayes Park as a mid-sized park located in the Edison Neighborhood. It has a walking path through a nice section of Beechwood trees.

Woods Lake--In the southwest, he described Woods Lake as a wonderful place to visit in the city’s Oakwood Neighborhood. “It’s got the lake and areas where you can walk along the edge of the water. … It’s close to a lot of things in the city and you can sit and enjoy the view.”

"I just think people should get out and move,” Fletcher says. “Don’t stay cooped up. For your own mental and physical health, get out. It doesn't have to be physical exertion. It can just be a nice walk. It doesn’t have to be heavy physical exercise.”


Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.