It is probably most fitting that the month of July is Parks and Recreation Month. The only full month of summer when the weather is nice enough to be outside and do something. And for many individuals, the best place to do that something is at a local park.
So in honor of July being Parks and Recreation Month, I decided —in a two-part series — to check out what is happening in both the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood when it comes to parks and recreation.
This piece focuses on Kentwood. To check out the Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department story, click here.
By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Come and play is the mantra of the Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department as it launched one of its newest programs this year, Positive Leadership Activities for Your or P.L.A.Y!
During the week, the P.L.A.Y! mobile vehicle visits one of five Kentwood parks: Veterans Park on Monday; Northeast Park on Tuesday; Home Acres Park on Wednesday; Kelloggswoods Park on Thursday and Pinewood Park on Friday. P.L.A.Y! coordinators bring games, art supplies, and every ball imaginable —basketballs, soccer balls, gym balls, footballs — with the goal of providing free, fun activities for area students.
“It is designed to give kids something to do during the summer,” said Scott Cogswell, one of the P.L.A.Y! leaders who also has background in elementary physical education and runs a ski and snowboard shop in Jenison.
P.L.A.Y! is a drop-in program and being new, the numbers have been low, Cogswell said, adding that coordinators are seeing returning children especially now that the students know when and where P.LA.Y! will be.
“It is a fun and free thing for families,” said Kentwood resident Naomi Miller. Miller said she had planned to check it out after seeing a flyer about the program at Home Acres Park. “Sometimes when you are heading out to the park you don’t know if there will be a friend. This way, you know there will be someone to play with.”
Since the beginning of the American Parks and Recreation system — which actually dates back to the early 1900s — the goal of any Parks and Recreation program has been to reach and fill the leisure needs of its community with both R.E.A.C.H. and P.L.A.Y! being excellent examples of how the Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department is doing just that.
But providing community program is only one part of what a Parks and Recreation Department offers in any city like Kentwood or Wyoming. Parks and Recreation, developed more than a 100 years ago, through a growing concern for leisure activities and has four components that are still the main focus: adult education, parks, voluntary organizations and playgrounds. Around 1935, many states were passing laws allowing local municipalities to operate parks and recreation departments and by the early 1940s, organized recreation services were firmly established in American life.
Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department oversees 16 parks that includes two trailheads at Stauffer Station and Wing Station and is currently following a five-year plan for capital improvements for the parks, Dawson said. In fact establishing that plan was one of the first things Dawson did when she joined the Parks and Recreation Department a couple of years ago.
By utilizing a mixture of community block grants and other grant money, the Department has been able to add new playground equipment at various parks along with work on basketball and tennis courts at Old Farm Park. Just like Wyoming’s Ideal Park, Kentwood’s Kelloggswood Park was hit by the 2014 tornado with it receiving upgraded bleachers and benches and a picnic shelter.
But it has been community involvement in the Parks and Recreation Department that has helped to determine some of the programs and improvements such as the dog park at Kelloggswood Park and the Farmers Market which operates every Saturday morning by city hall, Dawson said. Another example of this community involvement is the tee pads for the disc golf course at Old Farm Park.
“Disc golf is popular in the community and it was the owner of GR Hobby and Disc Golf who came to us about the need for concrete tee pads,” Dawson said. Through a series of tourney fundraising effort, the $8,000 needed was raised with players and residents enjoying the upgrade.
While halfway through its five-year plan, Dawson said working with residents and community leaders to determine needs and wants has been the key so that everyone — no matter ability, age, or skill — has has the opportunity to play, she said.