Days of play: Abundant recreation options keep Port Huron families on the move

Caution: Kids at Play! New equipment will keep everyone having fun until the sun goes down.
Waterfront seating to watch freighters float by, splash pads, pools, picnic areas, public tennis courts and baseball diamonds – it seems Port Huron has it all this summer.

Mayor Pauline Repp would certainly agree.

Water amenities are waiting for young visitors to splash around this summer."I think what we have here is fantastic in terms of parks and recreation," Repp says, noting the amenities are available across the city, from the north end to the south end. "And we continue to put new ideas in place for the parks and we are focused on that right now."

As improvements at many different parks across the city move forward, so does the quest to win grant funding for additional projects. The city council just okayed a plan to submit grant applications for upgrades at Gratiot and Optimist parks, Repp says.

In addition, the summer brochure touting the 2019 program offerings was recently released and the list of activities is both plentiful and unique, Repp says.

Those compliments are welcomed by Port Huron Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Winzer who works tirelessly to promote both parks and recreation in the city.

Marking her 25th year in the department, she says today there are three full-time and seven part-time maintenance employees Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Winzer stands inside the Sprout City Market.who keep things running smoothly.

"We are a full-service recreation department that offers programs year-round at our Palmer Park Recreation Center," Winzer says.

The list of ever-evolving programs, often dictated by what's fresh and popular, includes everything from dance and swimming lessons to sports, sign language, music lessons, adult macramé, and ukulele courses.

All of the programs offered in the city are open to both residents and non-residents, largely made possible by an agreement the city has with four surrounding townships. As an example, Winzer says if a resident's cost for T-Ball registration is $20 and non-residents is $40, the city bills the township the $20 difference and is reimbursed.

"It's been a great partnership we've had with these smaller communities who don't have their own recreation departments," Winzer says. "It's all one big happy family and it's been amazing and has worked out really well."

Parks are certainly plentiful

Sprout City is a miniature town for kids to explore.Port Huron has 26 parks including those in neighborhoods and along the waterfront. Two parks, Sanborn and Court Street, have public swimming pools, toddler pools, and also house several tennis courts.

Last year the department did a number of park improvements including putting in a picnic pavilion at Lakeside Park along with a tricycle track called Sprout City. It draws 700 little ones weekly who pedal along a path to an imitation city complete with stops at little houses, a post office, and mechanic shop.

"Sprout City has been huge, it stimulates kids' creativity and it's a play activity where they decided what they want to do," Winzer says.

A community-wide playground also came to life last summer at Optimist Park. Some 300 volunteers worked together while utilizing grants from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation and KaBOOM, to put new park structures in place.
Plans for this summer in the city are taking shape with three new refurbished baseball fields and two new pickleball courts to be put in place around the city in June.

A new restroom facility and a patio style lookout point to watch freighters is being constructed at Pine Grove Park and a new A splashoad at Knox Park will keep the children entertained for hours.summer sled hill has been installed at Palmer Park. Sleds will be provided so kids can enjoy a ride atop a track installed for speeding downhill minus snow.

A pair of brand-new lakeside pavilions are also available for rent at Lakeside and Pinegrove parks, Winzer says.

Other summer park staples in place include two splash pads at Lakeside and Knox Parks that open on Memorial Day and welcome visitors through Labor Day. There will also be free movies on a huge outdoor screen at local parks along with a free music series "Rockin' On the River" on Thursday nights in August.

Future park plans include raising funds for a skate park for Optimist Park and the city has already gotten an agreement of $250,000 in matching funds from the Wilson Foundation, Winzer says.

Programs for kids of all ages

New features await visitors to Pine Grove ParkStaring down 10 weeks of summer vacation may seem daunting for parents and kids but the Port Huron Recreation Department offers plenty of options. There are half day playground programs offered at neighborhood parks and a Day Camp on weekdays for kids ages 5 to 12 which includes outdoor activities and field trips.

There's also a very unique summer offering for middle school students called the ‘The Junior Recreators Program.' Launched by local philanthropist James Acheson more than 20 years ago, the program attracts 120 students every year who spend the summer volunteering their time to help out at various places in the city.

"This is a nice program for them because they are too old for the Day Camp and too young to get a job," Winzer says. "And for many it's actually there first job (type) experience.

The volunteers are spread out across the city, helping with recreation programs, at the local pools, the soup kitchen, the lighthouse museum and are a strong presence at special events.

"Our senior picnic is primarily run by these volunteer students," Winzer says. "And many write letters to Mr. Acheson years later saying what a great experience it was so it's very successful."

McMorran offers indoor options

Beyond enjoying city parks and taking part in recreation programs, Port Huron also has it's very own 4,800 square foot sports A new playground was recently installed at Optimist Park.and entertainment center.

McMorran Place, operated by the city's parks and recreation department, houses a 3,000-seat arena, which hosts concerts and special events and is home to a semi-pro hockey team. The facility also has a 1,200-seat theater.

Right now, McMorran Place is enjoying lots of updates as new carpet was recently installed in the theater, the entire facility is being repainted plus new signage is being erected. The city also recently received a donation from The River Church for new lighting and sound equipment for the center, Winzer says.

City Councilman Scott Worden considers the venue a real "gem" to the city adding that it's a central hub that's flexible enough to host many different events year-round.

"Our parks and recreation director keeps moving things forward there and the improvements to the outside going on now will make it a multi-faceted place for all seasons," Worden says.
Placing a community stage in front of the building and planning a place for a future outdoor skating venue are on the agenda right now.

A city "blessed" with amenities

Looking back over her long tenure with the city, Winzer says she's pleased to have officials support and understanding for how important it is to offer innovative play opportunities for children; especially today when iPads and video games capture their attention.

"I've seen the department change and evolve and it's because of the support we get from the city council and the city manager," Winzer says. "They have made recreation a priority and that really contributes to the growth and quality of life in the city."

Worden says residents definitely take pride in the parks and recreation offerings in Port Huron.

"It's always been a priority for myself as someone elected to represent the people because we do cherish it and leaders here want to remain actively keeping a constant focus on our parks and recreation," Worden says.

Having residents in neighborhoods across the city always willing to share their ideas and seek improvements also helps to keep things moving forward. Worden says officials appreciate feedback and utilize it to make changes if possible.

"I really, also, have to say we have an outstanding parks and recreation director who constantly trudges ahead, working to make things better," Worden says. "And this is such a unique and beautiful city and we are blessed every day but many people (outsiders) don't realize what we have here."
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