history of grand rapids parks


Veterans Memorial Park was originally known as Court House Square and the location of the Kent County Court. By 1871 the name had been changed to Fulton St. Park, and today it is known as Veterans Memorial Park. The park was dedicated on November 11, 1926, after the Grand Rapids Council of the American Legion and public contributions funded memorial pillars in honor of WWI vets.


Monument Park was established. In 1885, the monument to the Civil War was dedicated.


The City purchased land for Lincoln Park for $11,000 and named the park after President Lincoln.


The Parks and Boulevard Association is formed and spearheaded by Charles Garfield and other park advocates. In 1906, Julia Fletcher and Charles Garfield give land for the Fletcher-Garfield Playground, later to they would donate additional acreage to form Garfield Park.


Superintendant Eugene Goebel presides over the park system from 1905 to 1923.


Parks experience a boom with the passing of a $200,000 bond for park acquisition, including much of the current Wilcox Park.


Part of Woodlawn Cemetery land was reassigned for the Indian Trails Golf Course.


Land is transferred from Grand Rapids Public Schools to the City to create Sullivan (Valley) Field. Many baseball teams played at the field, including the American Seating Company team, the Seaters. The field was renamed Sullivan Field in 1996 to honor Bob Sullivan, a long time amateur baseball sponsor. The Grand Rapids Sullivans were a Grand Rapids-based baseball team owned and managed by Bob Sullivan and affiliated with the National Baseball Congress.


The City of Grand Rapids and the Board of Education adopted a joint-funded plan to establish a park or a playground at each City school. The first completed school-park was Alger in 1952. In 1955, Mulick school-park was awarded first prize from the American Society of Landscape Architects. Though very successful, the school-park plan was threatened many times throughout the 1960s, when the city-funded portion came under budget restraints. Even so, by 1966, the city had 21 school parks.


The Board of Education received a portion of the Michigan-Fuller park for a school. While Hillcrest Park became one of those in the City’s school-park system, a portion of the park was officially transformed into the city’s only dog park 50 years later in 2004.


Mr. Jack Zona was named the City’s official parks photographer. This new post in the City’s Park Department cited as its main qualification the ability to use a camera.


The City of Grand Rapids was awarded for its outstanding work on municipal reports, including the illustrated report on its parks capital improvement program. The award was made at the American Municipal Congress in San Francisco.


A $3 million, seven-year improvement program for the city’s park system was prepared in 1956 by Park Director Fred See. Though Mr. See never asked the city commission to formally adopt the plan, it continued to be used to guide future park improvements.


In August, the city’s first pocket park opened at 612 Cass Street, SE. Funded in part by a $4,200 grant from the Grand Rapids Foundation, the park’s idea and development was supervised by the Jaycees. The park was to be one of six such neighborhood play areas that the Jaycees hoped to open for children under age eight.


Franklin Park was formally renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.


The City of Grand Rapids sought $1 million in funds to develop Belknap Hill into a lighted, year-round sports facility; convert 3.5 acres of Grand Trunk Western Railroad property into a riverside park; and reclaim 31 acres of state-owned land on the west bank of the river across from Riverside Park.


After acquiring the defunct east canal property in 1973, the city opened Sixth Street Bridge Park in 1976. The park includes a boat ramp and fish-cleaning station, as well as picnic areas and walkways.


Conceived of as part of the city’s riverfront development plan, Fish Ladder Park became a reality in 1974 with the installation of Joseph Kinnebrew’s “Grand River Sculpture.” The sculpture acts as a fish ladder and allows visitors to engage with the fish run in an architecturally-designed public space.


70,000 cubic yards of earth was sculpted by bulldozers into artist Robert Morris’ “X,” an $80,000 earthworks project that was the first of its kind in the 20th century. The installment was funded through an NEA endowment, the Michigan Council for the Arts, and the City’s Parks Department.


The city’s first downtown riverfront park, planned for the east bank of the Grand River across from the Fish Ladder, was set to be open in about one year. Referred to as the Grand River Dam Site Development, it would feature the city’s first scenic promenade and a combination walking/bicycling path.


Grand Rapids Christian High School gymnasium becomes the Paul I. Phillips Recreation Center. After using the gymnasium for parks programs since 1974, the City officially acquires the gymnasium. The programming center is named after former Board of Education member and recreational opportunities advocate Paul I. Phillips in 1983.


Ah-Nab-Awen Bicentennial Park is dedicated. Officially named “resting place” to honor West Michigan’s three major Native American tribes, Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi. The park was begun as a bicentennial project in 1976.


Interconnected parks and pathways along the Grand River were officially established in 1981. This 1.25-mile course on each side of the river includes Louis Square, River Walk, Rapids Park, Sixth Street Bridge Park, Riverview Park, Fish Ladder Park and Ah-Nab-Awen Bicentennial Park.


Midtown Green is established. This neighborhood park grew out of the mid-1980s, when neighbors formed an association to turn this former brickyard and factory site into a neighborhood park.


Park planners hear public views on the City’s recreation priorities.

Public input cited priorities such as addressing deteriorating facilities; new play and sporting equipment; improvements and new programming. Park consultants at the same time recommended merging the Parks Department with the Recreation Department and creating a Parks and Recreation Board.


A $483,000 grant plus $388,800 in matching funds from the state Department of Natural Resources was used for landscaping, playground equipment, and recreational program improvements.


The City began purchasing land from the Grand Trunk Railroad in the 1980s for Canal Street Park, but the park’s green space and playground were not completed until 1998.


The city won an award for keeping Riverside Park user friendly, after employing a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to build bicycle and walking paths in the park. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Award for Excellence was actually given by the Michigan Oil & Gas Association, whose members are required to pay royalties into the land trust for parkland improvement.


Ten years in the making, Heartside Park gets life. The Grand Rapids city commission committed $85,800 to put the final funding in place for the decade-long Heartside Park project. The total funding for the project was $730,000, and used the last available green space in the Heartside neighborhood.


The 1995 Frey Foundation-commissioned sculpture Ecliptic, designed by architect/artist Maya Lin, was dedicated on the site of the old Monroe Mall, now Rosa Parks Circle, in 2001. Sculptor Ed Dwight’s piece commemorating Rosa Parks was place on site in 2010.


The City moves to turn Butterworth landfill into a recreation area. Trail improvements were made to link the former city landfill to Kent County’s Millennium Park. Improvements were paid for with state grants and the City’s banked share of the Millennium Park project.


The Adopt-a-Park program allowed the parks director to enter into agreements with benefactors for the upkeep of City parks. The program was developed on the heels of cuts that threatened to close the City’s pools, eliminate ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle, and discontinue city-sponsored festivals and parades.


An offer to pay children’s summertime swimming fees was made by two community members after seeing reports that pool attendance dropped dramatically when fees rose. The offer was estimated at over $60,000.


The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Parks and Recreation cited inclusiveness, effectiveness and equity as the highest priorities for the City’s parks and recreation programs.


Friends of Grand Rapids Parks is founded with the mission to identify specific park projects, mobilize people, and generate resources to protect, enhance, and expand the City’s parks and public spaces.

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