In April of this year, the City of Lowell invited those who were interested in providing input on the future of Recreation Park once the Kent County Youth Fair (KCYF) leaves by hosting a Design Day. Feedback from the two sessions were presented earlier this month to members of the committee established to discuss the future of the site.
Design Day Participation
The committee, designated to discuss options for Recreation Park after the KCYF vacates, started meeting late last year. Meetings have been facilitated by Williams & Works’ City Planner Andy Moore, who also provides direction to the Planning Commission. Design Day was established to give the public an opportunity to make suggestions.
Information regarding the future of the park was also available during Expo in March. People were able to take home a map of the park, mark where they’d like to see different features, and mail the paper back to City Hall. Approximately 10 responses were received via mail according to City Manager Mike Burns. And about 30 people participated in the Design Day Sessions in April. “The community provided many great ideas for Recreation Park, many of which we hope to implement in the future.” say Councilmember Cliff Yankovich, who is also part of the committee. His inspiration for being involved in what happens at Recreation Park comes late City Councilmember Jim Hall and his idea to offer overnight camping in Lowell.
Two plans were created by Williams & Works after taking a look at all of the suggestions from the public. These designs were presented to the committee earlier this month titled Wilderness Stay and Passive Play. Neither design is set in stone or to be considered a final plan, but rather used to further discussion on the best use of the area with more of a narrow scope. Burns indicated anticipation of sharing the designs with the Parks and Recreation Board to get their thoughts on the options. It is likely elements from both designs will end up in the final result. “Maybe later this year. I don’t necessarily want to rush completion as the Fair will not be leaving for a few years.” said Burns when asked when a final plan might be adopted by City Council.
Timing and Funding
The KCYF will remain for an estimated two or three fairs as they continue to work on their new location. But the hope for the city is to plan ahead and seek funding to be ready for when the space is available. “This is going to take many years to develop and implement.” remarks Burns.
Yankovich concurs with this sentiment saying, “I envision a modest beginning with the potential of adding more attractions to the park as financing becomes available.” One aspect of the redevelopment of the park he is eager to see is offering overnight camping. Currently a camping area is proposed for the northeast corner of the land which will allow for the rest of the area to be used for other activities. Suggestions have included a stage, splash pad, location for a farmers’ market, picnic areas, and various recreational activities. A kayak launch and fishing area would give people the choice of these activities on the Flat River along the Riverwalk or the Grand River.
Funding is one aspect which will dictate the speed in which development of Recreation Park takes place. It is anticipated that DNR Trust Fund Grants as well as local foundations will be a source for some funding. Yankovich also suggests if overnight camping is one of the first areas to be developed, it would provide some revenue to maintain and add future amenities.
Natural Recreation Hub
Lowell has been well on its way to becoming a recreation hub for hiking, biking, and use of waterways. Natural features of the Flat and Grand Rivers along with multiple trail systems coming through Lowell makes the community a great location for a pit stop or destination to start or end a longer trip. Recreation Park also becomes a logical location for a variety of activities. The land is nearby downtown restaurants and retail shops and the Lowell Area Recreation Authority continues to work on a connector trail which will go through Recreation Park in the future.
“When all of the trails are completed, Lowell is going to be at the hub of a very large network of trails for hikers, bikers, and nature lovers.” says Yankovich. “When you combine that with our vibrant restaurant scene and unique retail opportunities, we are poised to add camping along the confluence of the Flat and Grand rivers to our arsenal of attracting families to Lowell.” The future of the Lowell community continues to track toward being a destination attracting locals as well as visitors to even more than festivals and events currently being offered.