Grand Rapids finalizing parks and recreation master plan


Wilcox Park is located in Grand Rapids' Eastown neighborhood. Photo via

The Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation department will host two back-to-back meetings on Jan. 12 to present its new 2017-2021 Strategic Master Plan.

The meetings will be held at the Grand Rapids Art Museum Welcome Center downtown, at 101 Monroe Center NW, over lunch. The first session will take place from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and the second session will run from 12:30-1:30 p.m.

David Marquardt, director of the Parks & Recreation department, said more than 5,000 people have contributed to the master plan, which will now enter its final stage before going before the Grand Rapids City Commission.

“All of the suggestions have been rolled into plan recommendations, and we want to review that document with the community,” Marquardt said.

He said there is still an opportunity for “tweaking.”

Marquardt said one recommendation of the plan is to bring more of Grand Rapids’ distinct ecology to the forefront in future park design.

“We live in a diverse ecological part of the world,” he said. “We are using that to frame the way in which we design our parks in the future. An example of that is using more natural play pieces and creating more natural environments for play.

“Specifically, building in areas for loose logs and branches, in a wooded area, for kids to create their own forts or teepees or to create a small bridge across a dry riverbed, for example. Allowing them to see and be a part of the world, of the real natural environment.”

Marquardt said creating parks that serve as “learning labs” was one of the promises Mayor Rosalynn Bliss made when she gave the State of the City address last year.

“When Mayor Bliss took office, she was talking about our parks as not just traditional parks, but as learning labs,” he said. “So this is one way of getting closer to that vision that she has for our city’s park system.”

Another key recommendation is to create fully accessible parks, rather than just having a single piece of accessible play equipment available.

Several of the city’s parks are slated for renovations over the next handful of years, thanks to the passage of a city millage, and Marquardt said the master plan will inform some of the work being done.

“As we continue over the next four years of the park millage, we will definitely be rolling in some of these ideas that we’ve been hearing into the improvements that will continue,” he said.

Marquardt also acknowledged funding is limited. The parks millage brings in about $4 million per year in funding.

“That only allows us to get about a third of the way done in all the parks we are doing the work in,” he said. “This master plan, though, allows us to build in new ideas to the current projects taking place. It is also setting the stage for the future, which may take additional funding or partners.”

Marquardt said one of the reasons for the plan is that it is required by the state and will be used for the grant application process.

“We annually go after different state grants and having an application on file with the state allows us to be eligible for those grant funds,” he said.

Marquardt said in addition to the upcoming meetings, the Parks & Recreation department will also host targeted neighborhood events throughout January to gain feedback from residents.

The plan will then go before the Grand Rapids City Commission in February and be submitted to the state in March.

RSVP is required for the free luncheon meetings.

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