Green Investment – Community Backyards

Green Investment is an occasional series about the positive impact of Ottawa County parks on the quality of life in West Michigan, presented by the Ottawa County Parks Foundation. 

Ottawa Parks serve as big community backyards

Even with several acres of property at home, Brenda Easterling and her children can’t do everything in their own backyard.

Like swim a lake. Hike a dune. Kayak a river. Fish a pond. Slide down a hill. Explore a marsh.

So, the Easterling family explored a bigger backyard last summer — the Ottawa County Parks system — to do those things and more while visiting Ottawa’s 38 parks and open spaces.

“They’re just great places to get outside and experience nature,” said Easterling. “And you can find a park with things to do for everyone, from little tiny ones all the way up to great-grandparents.

“And other than the beach parks during the summer, they’re all free. That’s just a huge bonus. That’s why we started, to hit all the free things.”

With nearly 7,000 acres of land, the Ottawa County Park system does indeed serve as a community backyard. It reflects a community investment in spaces where people can gather, have a good time, and enjoy the outdoors, particularly if their own home or neighborhood is lacking in green space.

Most park facilities don’t require admission or reservations, so exact numbers of users are hard to come by. But demand for facilities that are reserved – 1,400 reservations a year – shows Ottawa residents enjoy a great return on that investment in parks.

Many dates for premium facilities are reserved a year in advance, said Elaine Ebeling, guest services supervisor for Ottawa Parks. The Weaver House at Pine Bend, Grand Ravine Lodge, the Connor Bayou Woodland Lodge and the Nature Education Center at Hemlock Crossing are favorite spots for weddings, graduation parties, family reunions, bridal showers, club meetings and business retreats. Those premium facilities rent for $80 to $400, well below the cost of most commercial event venues, Ebeling noted.