City Parks of Grand Rapids


March 5, 2021

#14 Fish Ladder Park

624 Front Street

3.38 Acres

Today was a great day to visit Fish Ladder Park on the west side of Grand River, downtown just north of I-96 and south of the 6th Street Bridge. We made a nice loop walking along the west side of the river, crossing the 6th Street Bridge, down the east side of the river and crossing the river again on Michigan Ave. We visited Sixth Street Park and Canal Park along the way on the east side of the river (more to come later).

Although the fishing wasn’t very good and we didn’t see any fish ascending the ladder, still there were a lot of fishermen out in boats just below the dam. The water was flowing pretty dramatically with the snowmelt. We did see one good catch- a fish probably 24 inches hooked by a man casting off the edge of the river. Everyone around him seemed envious.

Fish use the ladder to bypass the fast flow of the dam and make their way upstream to spawn. Although there is some activity in the spring, the majority of fish spawn in the fall. Visiting the fish ladder in the autumn is amazing when the salmon are running! I’d recommend it to anyone.

The fish ladder was constructed in 1974. It is a functional piece of art, the design of which was created by artist Joseph Kinnebrew. There is a parking lot off Front Ave. just west of the fish ladder. Restrooms (in season) and free WIFI also available.

View of Fish Ladder Park and the 6th Street Dam, from east side of Grand River

Catch of the Day!

Sculpture by Joseph Kinnebrew , overlying the “ladder”

Lincoln Park

March 2, 2021

Park #13 Lincoln Park 1120 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids 49504 12.45 acres

Lincoln Park is a large neighborhood park on the NW side, bounded by Bridge Street on the north and Jackson on the south. A parking lot is accessed on the east side, off Marion Ave.

On this cold March day, snow was still deep in places, but the bright newer playground structures and the beautifully “muraled” park shelter house/community building drew us is. The shelter house is home to John Ball Area Neighbors, a NW neighborhood association which has a presence on Facebook. (I checked it out-pre-Covid looks very active.)

We had a nice stroll through the park, checked out the playground, the splash pad, the basketball courts and tennis courts. Large open area with lots of mature trees, benches and picnic tables must beckon neighbors in the warmer months.

This park was established in in the 1880s, making it one of the oldest parks in Grand Rapids. Many changes occurred through the years first with carriage paths, gardens, a fountain and later a dance/concert pavilion. A swimming pool was added in 1943, replaced in 2000. It was later removed in 2010 due to the expense of maintaining.

Postcard from 1910, sent to a relative. Interesting message on the reverse side!

Indian Trails Golf Course

2776 Kalamazoo Ave. SE

Park #12, February 1, 2021

92 acres, opened June 15, 1928

Look for sign at the corner of Kalamazoo Ave. and 28th Street

Yes, Grand Rapids owns a golf course! Golfers have the option to pay a daily rate (varies with day of the week, # holes, with or without cart and your age) or purchase a season pass, if you are an avid golfer. . The park underwent an update just recently, 2017.

But we were not there today to play golf, but rather to find what the park has to offer in the winter. We found at least 6 other people on the grounds this Friday afternoon, all doing something different. There were a few XC skiers like us, a couple of fat tire bike enthusiasts and one couple using the snowshoes that Indian Trails rents out. The ski trail is groomed and about 2 miles in length. The bike trail is 3.5 miles long and the snow was nice and deep for snowshoers today. Bring your own skis. The course features rolling hills with scattered trees and a club house and driving range.

Ski trails are groomed but not tracked for classic skiing
Skiing and biking trails are separated
Young biker who stopped to let me take his photo-Thanks!

Mary Waters Park

February 2, 2021

Park # 11

1042 Lafayette Ave NE (at Leonard NE)

We had been driving west on Leonard NE a lot lately, and noticing a lot of sledding at the corner of Lafayette and Leonard. Today we discovered this is part of the Mary Waters Park which has history dating back to 1891 when this area was a “streetcar suburb”, formerly farmland- Hard to think of this as the northern boundary! Mary Waters was the daughter of Dudley and Florence Waters who gave the city 4.5 acres in 1907, to expand the park.

The hill takes up a large part of the park along with a flat field with basketball courts to the south. An access road off Lafayette goes to the top of the hill where there is a playground, a splash pad and a covered picnic area-also bathrooms.

Looking down the sledding hill toward Lafayette with access road to playground on the left.

Highland Park

February 2, 2021 Park #10 700 College NE (parking off Grand Ave/ east side of park)

Highland Park isn’t easy to find as there isn’t much of an entrance on busy College Ave. NE, but drive around the north side of the park to Grand Ave and you will find a parking lot close to the playground equipment, bathroom and picnic tables.

This park has a lot to offer: sledding, disc golf, splash pad, playground and soccer field plus restrooms (in season-which apparently isn’t now!) There are free sleds to borrow on Saturdays, but this weekday the sledding hill was pretty bare even though there was plenty of snow in rest park. Apparently the hill had lots of use this past weekend! 27.9 acres, the majority of which is left in large open fields gave a wonderful sense of space and tranquility. Coldbrook Creek bisects this area, running east to west.

We were intrigued by the forested hill bordering the north side of the park and hiked a trail there populated with disc golf baskets.

Caulfield Park

January 18, 2021 Park #9 1115 Caulfield Ave. SW .32 Acres

Caulfield Park, the best tiniest bit of paradise for any toddler, right in your own back yard!

Yes, the best part of Caulfield park is its location, nestled between two streets and two houses, it’s super convenient for families living in the neighborhood. In the morning, or after dinner, grab your coffee, grab your kids, and go sit on a park bench, and watch them go up and down the slides and swings and jungle gym, while you chat with neighbors. You can stay after sundown as there is good lighting on the play structures. Primarily for younger children (sign says 2-12), Caulfield Park is mainly a playground, but what a playground!

Caulfield Park dates back to 1984, but it was renovated June 28, 2019 with support from Amway and KaBoom (a national non-profit working to bring neighborhood parks to kids). The new playground was installed in 6 hours by 200 volunteers, including Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Amway employees. To say the least-we were impressed! Every neighborhood needs a “Caulfield.

Kensington Park

January 18, 2021 Park # 8 902 Curve Street SW

This week, Scott and I decided to visit a group of parks on the SW side of the city. We got acquainted with this area when canvassing for the census this fall. In one afternoon we visited Roosevelt, Kensington, and Caulfield Parks.

Kensington Park sits on the south edge of an interesting residential area, the Black Hills, which is separated from the Grandville corridor on the east by Godfrey Ave. and surrounded on the east and south by industrial complexes and the west and north by railroad tracks. This makes a little oasis of a neighborhood that truly benefits from a neighborhood park. The park consists of the southern wooded slope of the Black Hills and a flat area at the base of the hill, giving it 8 acres.

The park is a recipient of the park millage of 2013, as it has new playground equipment and a renovation of soccer fields. Looks like the work is progressing but waiting for some warmer weather for mulching and more cement work. It was surprising to find there was no parking lot available. Street parking is available on Dorchester near the playground and the park is accessible from the Blackhills neighborhood by the paths leading down the hill.

I am curious as to the origins and configuration of the Black Hills area and the history of this park, which dates back to 1909. If anyone has information on this, I’d love to hear more. Elizabeth

New Playground equipment!

Roosevelt Park

January 18, 2021 Park #7 739 Van Raalte Dr. SW (Van Raalte at Grandville Ave. SW)

Roosevelt Park was a pleasant surprise to visit in the depths of winter. We came on a sunless afternoon when the trees were bare and there was snow on the ground not knowing what to expect. But-I had a special interest in this park because it was a big part of my mother’s life as a child. She was born in 1916 and grew up on lower Grandville Ave., in the heart of the Dutch community. Every summer she and her sister would spent the day in Roosevelt Park where the Park Director, a Mr. Van Os, ran a summer program for the neighborhood children. From my mother’s autobiography: “there was a little shack where you could make your mother a vase from a pickle jar and glue and wallpaper or anything else with pieces of wood or beads….The playground director also organized ball teams for the older kids and oversaw the younger ones so no one was hurt”. From the GR Historical Commission book, Keep on the Grass, “In 1912 Charles Mills came from Hull House in Chicago to develop and to oversee the playground programs. Under his direction each city park and playground had its own supervisor and offered children’s activities from 10 AM to 5 PM six days a week during summer months.” This was such a wonderful experience for my mother and her younger sister, as my grandmother worked all day in a factory and the girls would have been on their own at ages 8 and 11.

As we explored Roosevelt Park, I tried to imagine what the park meant to the neighborhood in 1927. The impetus for building the park came from the local businessmen in 1923. They argued that there were 1000 children living in the area without a place to play, and so the city purchased 7 acres for the park. It is much changed now, I imagine. The shack is gone now replaced by the large Roosevelt Park Lodge, which doesn’t appear to be in use much. The park has been updated thanks to the millage for parks passed in 2013.

Available at the the park, (some features more in the summer) are a .2mile paved walking path with several equipped exercise stations, (5 laps to a mile!), a splash pad, new playground equipment, a field for soccer, picnic tables, murals by local young artists, and a rain garden. At 7.27 acres, Roosevelt Park gives a lot of space to run and be outdoors. I’d love to re-visit this park in the summer to see the action! Thank you to the citizens of Grand Rapids who voted to give this park a face-lift! Well done!

And put on a happy face!

Wilcox Park

January 11, 2021

Park #6 Wilcox Park 100 Youell SE, Grand Rapids 49508

Wilcox Park is my neighborhood park-the closest city park to my back door. It is the city park I visit the most, often 1-2 times a week . For me, it is a short 1.2 mile hike, taking in the delight of the leafy Marywood campus and the Aquinas campus along the way. Wilcox Park is bordered by Aquinas College on the east side, and separated by a fence and Coldbrook creek (which flows from Fisk Lake). From my house and then through the college campus north to south and around the perimeter of the park (south and west borders) and back to home, I can knock off 6400 steps in an hour for a distance of 2.4 miles. That’s a pretty good workout for me and a nice encounter with nature.

On a recent walk after our last snow, it was great to see kids and parents sliding down a hill off Youell Ave. and into the “bowl” in the middle of the southern part of the park. The copse of firs in the center of the “bowl” was sometimes an obstacle but no serious collisions.

Last fall we noticed the addition of a hammock grove, groups of 4x4s anchored in the ground with hooks for hanging hammocks (a popular thing to do in this park for the last several years). Previously people were using trees for suspending their hammocks. Each pole is decorated with different designs and in themselves, an interesting art form (also utilitarian). The project is memorial to a young man who passed away in 2017 at the tender age of 21. His poetry appears on 2 plaques in the hammock grove.

Wilcox Park encompasses 12.68 acres. It was established in 1910 on land which was formerly a gravel pit- the gravel used to build a toll road from Grand Rapids to Reeds Lake. Amenities today include: basketball and tennis courts, a ball diamond, a fenced playground and splash pad, small picnic shelter with bathrooms, and plenty of room to walk your dog, hang your hammock or lie on a blanket in the sun for an afternoon rest. It’s great to have this park so near to my house!

Playful mural bordering Youell west side of park.

Richmond Park

December 10, 2020

Park #5 Richmond Park, 1101 Richmond NW, Grand Rapids, 49504

If you are at all familiar with Richmond, you are probably picturing a sledding hill and ice skating pond. And in the summer add the generous swimming pool, now updated with water slides and splash pad. Richmond is all about recreation-also playground and a newly added concrete walkway around the duck pond (aka skating pond). But there is more to this park!

The park is bordered on the west side by a high bluff running from the sledding hill to north. From the top of that bluff looking east is a great view of the city.

This is a wooded natural area crisscrossed by sandy trails. Now the easy way to get there is to drive up Richmond Ave. to the back of the park, turn north on Garfield Ave and park on the side of the road. We learned the hard way, scaling a sand dune of a trail, almost straight up, leaning into the hill to prevent from falling backwards, (ok maybe a little exaggerated) but the climb was 177 feet on the Garmin. The effort was worth it, but maybe not for everyone.

This park was well used mid week when we visited, with moms and kids on the playground, walkers and some people there just to feed the sea gulls, ducks, and Canadian geese hanging out around the pond. (Watch your step!)

Check out Richmond Park, any season and you will find something interesting! Happy Trails!