Emerging pocket parks add more space for community connection

Recreation on a smaller scale is making its way into the St. Clair County landscape.

Pocket parks are a slice of land set aside where people can come together to unwind, engage in recreational activities, or even enjoy live entertainment. In St. Clair County, an existing pocket park is located on Military Street in downtown Port Huron with another currently under construction in the Village of Capac.

Local leaders who helped bring them to the region appreciate their ability to offer a unique place to build community.

“We wanted to have strategically placed places that we can gather and highlight the businesses around it,” says Natacha Hayden, Director of the City of Port Huron’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA). “That’s the advantage of the Military Street pocket park.”

Completed in 2020, Hayden says the Military Street pocket park played a part in helping downtown Port Huron make it through the pandemic. Located within the city’s social district and set up to offer live entertainment, the park has become a place for residents and visitors alike that pushes foot traffic toward downtown businesses.

“Especially the restaurants that are in that surrounding area,” she says. “I can either bring a drink to the park, or even for lunch and dinner, you can enjoy those products outdoors.”

Though the Military Street pocket park is well-established, Hayden says there are more improvements to come and it is currently under construction.

The City of Port Huron recently saw a recreation millage pass, providing more taxpayer funding for park upkeep and development. Nancy Winzer, Director of Port Huron Parks & Recreation, says it’s demonstrative of the value that both voters and city officials have for local recreation.

“It's a real testament to the city board, and that they're able to have the vision, to see how important recreation is to the people who want to work here, play here,” she says. “And we've seen a huge influx of people visiting here because of our parks.” 

As one coastal pocket park continues its years-long growth, another is getting started just 30 miles to the west.

Travis Youatt first took on the role of village manager almost a year and a half ago and at the time, a space to gather in Capac was a need already identified by village council members.

Youatt saw an opportunity in an empty parcel of land on Main Street that was in the process of being cleared of contaminants from a previous business.

“So we saw that through,” he says. “And we really just wanted a place for people to gather to come downtown, so we could host events and bring people to Capac from all over.”

Sod is currently being laid at the park and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for July 13, marking its official opening to the public, and a kickoff to the village’s Music on Main Street summer concert series.

In the meantime, Youatt says the village is still waiting for the arrival of a few finishing touches including a few benches, a plaque, and Adirondack chairs which will sit around the park's fire pit.

Funding for the park was delivered in part by St. Clair County as well as grants provided by the Four County Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.

“Placemaking is one of the priorities of the Foundation,” says John Tomlinson, Chair of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County’s Grants Committee. “Giving communities resources to establish spaces within their downtown areas for recreation and to provide gathering places is one of our priorities. The pocket park accomplishes this priority.”

The establishment of the Capac pocket park is only the start of what Youatt hopes to achieve for his community.

“It's just the tip of the iceberg and I know that's kind of cliche to say,” he says. “But Capac is moving forward and I feel like we're tipping the scale.”
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Read more articles by Riley Connell.

Riley Connell is a graduate of Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She's a frequent visitor to the Metro Detroit area where she was raised and in addition to her work with The Keel, Riley is a full-time reporter with the Cadillac News as well as a contributor to The Keel’s sister publication, Epicenter Mt. Pleasant. When she isn't writing, Riley enjoys spending time outdoors, painting, antiquing, and trying new foods.