Students tell designers what they want to see in their park

Ground broken on redesigned park by Burton School

Sixth-grader Abby Gallegos, right, gathers together with fellow park designers Dayan and Sani Roblero, and Lynne Heemstra, director of Our Community’s Children initiative, at the groundbreaking ceremonies for Plaster Creek Family Park

Students from Burton Elementary and Middle Schools watched proudly Monday afternoon as dignitaries from the City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Public Schools broke ground on a $1.045 million improvement project at Plaster Creek Family Park.

The fifth- and sixth-graders played a key role in telling officials what they wanted to see and do in their neighborhood park. They took the designers on walks through the park on several occasions last year, noting what they would like to see changed.

Thanks to their input, the redesigned park will include The Nest, an outdoor classroom with seating, raised planter beds for a vegetable garden, a rain garden, native meadow plantings and a community picnic area.

The project also will include The Meadows, a stump forest and log jam playground feature made from local trees harvested by the city’s Forestry Division. Other features will include accessible footpaths, a picnic area with tables and grills, a running track, a softball diamond, soccer field, and tennis and basketball courts.

“This project is truly a community effort,” said Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal in a statement. “Burton students played an important role in this planning effort and we are looking forward to bringing their ideas to life.

“This project is an example of how connecting children with nature can help develop future environmental stewards and leaders,” said Neal. Burton School is one of four “park-deficient” sites in the city that will benefit from green schoolyard projects over the next three years, city officials said.

“This project reaffirms our commitment to make sure that children in our community have access to the outdoors and public parks that serve as natural classrooms where they can appreciate their environment through hands-on learning,” said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in her remarks at the groundbreaking. “It also gets us closer to our goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every resident in our city.”

City and Schools Working Together

The 19-acre park is tucked into a hollow west of Buchanan Avenue SW and southwest of Burton Elementary and Middle Schools. The park’s namesake, Plaster Creek, flows through a wooded area on the park’s southern edge.  The improvements are scheduled to be complete by the end of October.

The outdoor classroom and natural playscape are designed to fit into the Thrive Outside Initiative, an effort that brings together local groups to make outdoor living part of people’s everyday lives. The project also aligns with the Connecting Children to Nature Initiative, a partnership between the city and schools that promotes environmental education, parks and schoolyard “activation” and sustainability.

The Plaster Creek Family Park project is being funded by a $317,500 grant from the Wege Foundation, a $601,250 outlay from the city’s parks millage, and $101,750 from the city’s Environmental Services Department. The project also benefited from a $25,000 planning grant given to the city by the National League of Cities.

“This project is the first of its kind featuring nature play and it highlights our strong relationship with Grand Rapids Public Schools,” said David Marquardt, the city’s Parks and Recreation director. “We are grateful for the many great partnerships making this project a reality. We deeply appreciate the input we have received from community members, including students, parents, teachers and neighbors.”

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SNN story: Students dig greening up their city

James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio.

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