BATTLE CREEK – Irving Park has long served as an urban oasis in Battle Creek’s historic Northside neighborhood.
Situated near North Avenue and Emmett Street, across from the campuses of Bronson Battle Creek Hospital and Kellogg Community College, the park is known largely for the variety of waterfowl that dominate its ponds, walking paths and an 18-hole disc golf course.
A new outdoor fitness playground disturbed the natural balance last week, when it was installed thanks to a neighborhood enhancement program grant to the nonprofit Southwestern Michigan Urban League.
Some members of the disc golf community − the largest group that uses the park − raised some noise about not being consulted or invited to give input on the placement of the equipment near tee pads for holes 8, 9, 10 and 17.
“We were shocked this would happen,” said Chad Curtis, who helped design and install the disc golf course more than a decade ago. “It is not directly between any of the holes. Working with our original information – people saying it would impact four or five holes – it was going to be a huge production, but it has a much smaller footprint.”
City officials paid attention to what Curtis and other disc golfers had to say.
The installation of the disc golf course was a grass-roots effort that Curtis said cost approximately $50,000 and countless volunteer hours. The course is free to play and can be used 365 days a year, with a Sunday 10 a.m. league playing every week since its opening.
When the course was opened in 2009, the Battle Creek Disc Golf Association drafted an agreement with the Battle Creek Parks and Recreation Department to help maintain and promote the park, giving them permission to host special events such as fundraisers. However, the document was never signed by anyone from the city or the association.
According to Battle Creek Mayor Mark Behnke, the city commission received complaints about the disc golf community not being involved in the planning of new amenities.
“We had an agreement that was drafted, we were probably remiss in not getting anyone to sign it,” Behnke said. “Just a general oversight… I thought Chad did a good job trying to get to the bottom of it. We never had a signed agreement but we support what they are doing 110 percent.”
Upon learning of the complaints, Commissioner Jenasia Morris facilitated a meeting between the Urban League, the Department of Public Works and Curtis. The disc golfer said it was productive as all sides came away feeling they were on the same page in trying to promote healthy outdoor recreation in Battle Creek.
“It’s a mistake and mistakes happen,” Curtis said. “Now we have another group that wants to improve Irving Park and the city is more aware of the grass-roots efforts to improve Irving Park, and we consider that a win for everybody.
“Anything positive that can come from this, and one thing I love is that we were able to reach out to city leaders and elected officials and they respond in the same day. In a lot of areas, you would not get that attention or concern, so I’m real happy with how things were handled.”
Urban League President Kyra Wallace said the fitness playground is one of two rounds of a $50,000 neighborhood improvement grant through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The first part is for a neighborhood exterior program for homes in the Park Hill neighborhood that abuts the park; the second for the outdoor fitness playground as well as cleanup and restoration of rock garden stairways at the park.
The equipment doesn’t appear to be in the potential path of flying discs, though errant throws still can happen. A new accessway to the fitness playground and basketball court is being created off of Congress Street. The old basketball hoop has also been removed and will be replaced, with the Urban League and Battle Creek Disc Golf Association planning a ceremony showcasing the park improvements in the spring.
“We were able to work things out to a degree where we have spoken about how in the upcoming future we can do some partnering with the disc golfers, helping them to teach people from our community how to actually play,” Wallace said. “The exercise equipment is part of our health initiative to get people to move more and get more active. The rock garden is like a natural stair-stepper. Once it’s all cleared out, there will be three or four mazes people can walk up and down and get a good workout in.”
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley