For suburban Americans, the idea of a public park seems like a rite of passage, an important facet in all our coming-of-age stories. But how many of us know what elements make a park a good park?
Luckily for residents of the Greater Lansing Area, the Holt-Delhi parks department seems to have the answers.
Recently under new leadership, the new director, Troy Stowell is a longtime parks department employee and Holt resident has been in charge for the past month.
“I’m actually a Holt resident myself so when this position came open at the end of 2021 it felt like a natural fit to come in and apply to see if I can better the parks system and improve my hometown,” says Stowell.
This may be a tough initiative as Delhi Township already boasts an impressive list of parks as well as roughly 9 miles of interurban trails and pathways for outdoor enthusiasts to explore. The trails are a combination of paved walking paths and hiking trails to ensure accessibility and connect the Holt community with the Lansing River Trail (a 25.3-mile paved path along Grand River).
According to Parks and Recreation Director Troy Stowell, the Holt-Delhi parks department has plans to continue expanding the trails due to their popularity.
“Our trail system here in Holt I think is second to none. We are kind of that hub that has not only regional trails, but trails that connect all the way to Lansing. And we are actually looking to expand our trail system all the way south towards Mason.”
“All of our trails connect with either schools or parks or neighborhoods, so a lot of people especially when the weather gets a little better outside, you’ll see them on our trail system. It’s heavily used. All of our trailheads on any night especially when the sun is shining, they’re almost at capacity with people out there walking and enjoying the trails.”
The trails are so popular that even Michigan winters do not deter outdoorsy residents from hitting the trails or the playground.
“If it’s above 30 degrees and the wind chill isn’t terrible, we will come here as often as we can,” said Holt resident Anna Bigelow who was visiting Valhalla park’s playground with her daughter Sarah.
Bigelow and her daughter live five minutes away from the park, and fully take advantage of the variety of amenities Valhalla offers, which includes a small beach.
“She learned to use her floaties for the first time here, so we’ve already made so many memories here,” said Bigelow.
“Valhalla is that type of park that can appeal to families, to walkers, to hikers, to people that are looking to do some fishing. So that kind of variety of things they can do is going to draw them back to a park,” said Stowell.
According to Stowell, variety is key in designing a park that keeps residents coming back.
“I think the more variety you have in a park you’re going to get a lot of people who are going to come back on a weekly basis or a couple of times a summer, to try and experience something different.”
Some residents, like 75-year-old Melvin James and 91-year-old Norman Eastman, find themselves at the parks most days rain or shine.
“Unless it’s raining, I go out every day. I’m retired so I have the time,” said James who has lived in Holt since he got married in 1967.
“I like walking the trails here, but I won’t today because it’s icy. I got in my car some spikes I put on (my shoes) but it’s bad today and at my age, the worst thing I can do is have a bad fall,” said the 91-year-old Eastman.
Accessibility issues are an unfortunate consequence of snowy Michigan winters, but the paved walkways offer a more accessible option for trail goers like Eastman.
“I either bike or walk (the trails) but I don’t bike right now. I’ll start again in March, but I’ve been walking here for probably the last 25 years. I walk a lot more in the winter because I can’t bike,” said Eastman.
Once the snow melts, Eastman plans on biking from his house in Holt to Stockbridge, about a 60-mile round trip journey which he makes routinely.
“Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t walk the trails I ran them, but I thought–a couple of years ago I was 87, 88, and I thought ‘well my hips are good, my knees are good, I better kinda back off from all the poundings’ so that’s when I started walking. But I’ve ran the Boston Marathon and the Detroit Marathon,” said Eastman.
According to Stowell the success of the park system in Delhi Township is due entirely to their staff who are in the parks 365 days a year to ensure the public’s experience in the parks is “Top notch.”
“You don’t really get that at a lot of park systems because they might not have the staff to devote to being hands-on, but I think our staff does a phenomenal job being out there interacting with people,” said Stowell.
Public opinion is also a major factor in how a park is constructed as the staff at the Holt-Delhi Parks Department realize the importance of involving the public’s opinion in building a ‘good’ park, as construction is often a lengthy process.
“You want to look at the longevity of the parks so when you’re looking at different amenities, you want something that is going to kind of be sustainable so in 5, 10, 15 years down the road it’s still going to have that element of surprise, said Stowell”
“So if you’re looking at a new playground that you’re trying to put into a park system you want something that a kid is going to be able to go to when they’re 2, 3, years old and then when they’re 10 years old they’ll still get that same kind of excitement.”