Park of the Month: Garfield Park

Garfield Park is located at 250 Burton St SE (between Madison and Jefferson). It is one of the city’s larger parks consisting of 36 acres including the adjacent Burton Woods, a wooded nature preserve of 6 acres on the SW side of Garfield.  

These two parks provide an amazing green space in SE Grand Rapids and they have an even more amazing history.  

In 1906 Charles W. Garfield and his cousin, Julia Fletcher,  donated 25 acres from their family farm to the city for use as a  park-marking the beginning of Garfield Park. Charles Garfield was a prominent citizen of GR who “did more than any person to shape the course of the physical city over a 40-year span from 1894 to 1934” (from Keep on the Grass, by the Grand Rapids  Historical Comm.).

In addition to being a farmer, banker, and legislator, he also founded the Michigan Forestry Commission,  lobbying for the early reforestation of Michigan, after logging had destroyed much of Michigan’s native woodland. A  commemorative marker at the base of a sycamore tree that he planted in Garfield Park, reads Memory Tree, Chas. W.  Garfield, Useful Citizen, Lover of Trees. Although the influence of this “Useful Citizen” looms large in the history of our state and city, it is said that his modesty and love of nature stood out as the most important part of his legacy.  

Today the park boasts large open areas with many mature trees.  There are playing fields for all types of sports, including an 18  “hole” disc golf course. The park has a Kaboom playground,  found in many of the city parks and picnic spaces with shelters.  In 1953, 2 swimming pools, a wading pool, and a gymnasium were added. The pools closed in 2010 but there is an effort underway to bring a new splash pad to the park. The gymnasium is now used as a community center. 

The 6 acre Burton Woods, adds a lovely natural area for walking frequented by many local dog owners, exercising their canine pals.  

For more information on Charles Garfield and photos, check out his story in the publication, Forest History Today, Fall 2017  edition. (skip to page 65).


about the author: elizabeth b.

Elizabeth is a Neighborhood Forester trainee and nature enthusiast! She belongs to the Environmental Justice team at her church, is a member of the West Michigan Sierra Club, and is on a mission to visit every GR park (all 76!). You can follow her journey and learn more about our city parks at her blog, www.cityparksgrmi.org. If you would like to receive notifications when a new park is reviewed, email Elizabeth at eboessenkool@yahoo.com.


Back to Articles