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Recent Park Improvements: Contributors to local economy and businesses

As the weather gets warmer the parks begin to fill up once again, and if you’re lucky, your community is one of the many that will be making improvements to their parks’ spaces and facilities this year. You’re bound to notice residents taking advantage of the new and improved parks, but what you may not notice is the increase in homebuyers, the overall community development or the boom in business that great parks contribute to.

The impact of park development is particularly noticeable in East Lansing. Starting this summer, the city will improve the surface of the Northern Tier Trail and repair or replace six bridges along the trail, thanks to $1,088,500 in Ingham County Trails and parks Millage funding. Recently, they were awarded an additional $469,000 to extend the Northern Tier Trail through Albert A. White Memorial Park. In addition to the Northern Tier Trail project, future developments are planned for Patriarche Park, Bailey Park and a new Veterans Monument in the Bailey Neighborhood.

All of these scheduled improvements for the City’s parks sound great, but what’s in it for the community as a whole? Mikell Frey, East Lansing’s communications coordinator says park developments mean more than just a place to enjoy the outdoors.

“Investing in parks helps to enhance the livability of a community,” said Frey, “while also helping to create a sense of place for the people who live in that community.” For residents, park improvements boast community development, health and environmental benefits. Residents enjoy a variety of opportunities to be active and social. Parks also play a role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Perhaps more surprising is the correlation between the improvement of parks and economic development.

According to Frey, the presence of parks is being used as a selling point for many redevelopment projects across East Lansing.

The 300 Grand mixed-use projects adjacent to Valley Court, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Center project adjacent to Bailey Park and the Hawk Nest neighborhood adjacent to Hawk Nest Park, are just a few examples. Neighborhood parks in particular can improve property values and attract homebuyers. Even existing businesses benefit from the increased foot traffic near parks and recreation facilities. The East Lansing Soccer Complex, East Lansing Softball Complex, East Lansing Family Aquatic Center and East Lansing Farmer’s Market are all great examples of destinations that draw large quantities of people living in and outside of East Lansing, which in turn provide economic benefits to local businesses.

Just next door, Meridian Township is home to over 900 acres of parks, 20 miles of trails and 80 miles of pedestrian and bicycle pathways. Their Central Park, in particular, has a history that starts in 1966 when the first parcel of land was originally purchased. The park is located within the Township’s borders, connecting the Haslett and Okemos communities together.

“It is a gathering place for township-wide events, learning the history and core roots of the township at the Historical Village, and a destination for market goers in the summer,” Says Deb Guthrie, Meridian Township’s communications director. For Meridian Township, Central Park is more than a park space; it’s somewhere to bring people together.

Park improvements and preservation in Meridian Township have gotten an overwhelming amount of support and positive feedback. In 2016 the Parks and Recreation Department had over 1,800 volunteers contribute to over 35,000 hours of support to the community.

“We feel it is important to engage the community in volunteer projects; from park clean-ups, to planting trees and flowers, garden maintenance, invasive species removal and vernal pool monitoring,” Said LuAnn Maisner, director of Meridian Township’s Parks and Recreation Department. Experiencing this reaction from residents ensures the Township that people value their parks.

Recently, the community supported a new Park Millage that generates approximately $1,000,000 annually. $700,000 covers current operating expenses leaving $300,000 for park projects. This funding allows the department to address deferred maintenance items such as repaving crumbled parking lots, replacing roofs, septic systems and worn out equipment.

A few of their projects for Central Park in particular include a dog park, trail resurfacing, a new pavilion in North Meridian Road Park and new directional signage on trails. Parks and Recreation staff is also currently in the process of creating an online interactive map that can be accessed through their website. Just like East Lansing, the improved parks will make for a more livable community, keeping people there and bringing people in. These changes are giving the surrounding residents, and businesses, something to celebrate.

The Central Park area hosts an array of businesses, some who consider park improvements a direct boost to business. Just a five minute walk south of the park is Denny’s Central Park Bicycles, a family owned business established in 1942. Owner Denny Vandecar moved the business to its current Okemos location in the early 2000s and its proximity to Meridian Township’s Central park has produced several opportunities.

Dave Vandecar, Denny’s son, is excited knowing the parks are soon to be revamped.

“It’s nice to have a safe, convenient place to take a customer testing out a bike,” said Dave. He rides his bike in the park two to three times a week and expressed how important it is for community members to have a space like Central Park. While Okemos is not a very bike-friendly area, lacking sufficient bike lanes and certain safety precautions, the park provides several easily accessible trails for bikers.

Denny’s Central Park Bicycles hosts rides and events that begin at their storefront and head to trails in the surrounding parks. The improvement of these trails and its neighboring park space fuels their industry in a very direct way. When the parks are in bad shape, community members aren’t willing to take part in biking activities like group rides.

“Seeing the trails improved would be good for business and provide more opportunities for the area,” said Dave. “Keeping people not only living but also engaging in the community is good for the economy, which is good for everyone.”

The improvements we can expect to see in the coming months and years are certainly something to get excited about. Next time you enjoy a public park remember the good it does for your neighbors and small businesses. Supporting the parks through fundraising, volunteering or simply keeping them clean and safe makes a difference. Beyond being a beautiful green space, these sites and facilities are providing the essential task of connecting communities and encouraging economic growth.

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