One of the many amenities Kalamazoo County has is a large number of parks owned by townships, cities and the county itself. The six county–owned parks we have today were developed over the last 60 years, and the seventh is on the horizon in Texas Township, at the former site of the Rota–Kiwan Boy Scout Camp (scheduled to open to the public sometime in 2022). In developing and maintaining the parks, the county parks staff is aided by the Parks Foundation, volunteers and other organizations that support these parks in so many different ways.
Here are five of our county park gems that you should get out and see before summer is over. And here’s one quick bit of advice: Leave your poker chips and cattle at home. From the start, both gambling and grazing large livestock have been prohibited at all county parks.
Scotts Mill County Park
8451 S. 35th St., Scotts
The White family owned two mills in Pavilion Township starting in the 19th century, but little did they know then that one of those mills would become the center of a public park. Well into the 20th century, their flour mill produced and sold more than 40,000 sacks of flour every year. The evolution of the area into a park began with the acquisition of the land from the White family by the county in 1973. Development of the 110–acre park was designated a Bicentennial Project, and after a successful fundraising campaign, Scotts Mill Park opened in 1976. The park features not only the mill, but also hiking trails, a log cabin, a picnic shelter, a playground and areas for fishing and weddings.
Markin Glen Park
5300 N. Westnedge Ave.
Markin Glen is one of the county’s most popular parks. The land on which it’s located, in Cooper Township, was formerly the estate of Morris Markin, founder of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corp., which produced its iconic automobiles from 1923 to 1982. In 1970, after Markin’s death, the city of Kalamazoo purchased 16 acres for Maple Glen Park, which closed in 1977. Eleven years later the county purchased the park for $1. The newly created Parks Foundation raised funds to open the west side of the park in 1994 and the east side six years later. The 168–acre park has campsites, playgrounds, picnic shelters, a swimming beach, fishing, softball fields, tennis and volleyball courts, and hiking and biking trails. In 1997 the park was renamed Markin Glen Park.
Prairie View Park
899 E. U Ave., Vicksburg
The county’s interest in acquiring this land, which is part of the Gourdneck State Game Area, began in the 1950s. As a result of a land swap, the county acquired the original acreage in 1960 for $56,000 and opened the park two years later. Its name pays tribute to the land’s prairies, a major attraction for residents who came here in the early 19th century. With 210 acres located on both Gourdneck and Hogsett lakes, the park has picnic areas, playgrounds, soccer fields, hiking trails, a beach and a boat ramp. A very popular 7–acre dog park, with separate areas for pooches of different sizes, was added in 2010.
River Oaks Park
9202 E. Michigan Ave. (M–96) Galesburg
This 330–acre park has a fascinating history. The Alphadelphia Association, a socialist and utopian organization that attracted a large membership, called this land home in the early 1840s. After the group disbanded, the county purchased the site in 1846 for the Kalamazoo Poor Farm, which existed for many years. It later became the County Rest Home, primarily for senior citizens, and closed in 1971. The location opened as a park in 1974 and is named for the oak trees that can be found along Morrow Lake. Today its amenities include picnic shelters, hiking trails, a boat launch, a splash pad, a dog park, ball diamonds and volleyball courts. In addition, its 22 soccer fields help make it one of the area’s more popular parks.
Kalamazoo River Valley Trail
A vision 30 years ago became a reality in 2008 with the opening of this linear county park, which then had 4.8 miles of paved trail. Now the 24–mile trail winds through the county, linking Comstock Township to the Kal–Haven Trail. There are plans to extend the KRVT so it joins with the Portage Bicentennial Trail and the Battle Creek Linear Park, providing a non–motorized way to get from South Haven to Battle Creek. Eventually, with links to other trails, it may be possible to go from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. Whether traveling by foot, bike or any other non–motorized means, the KRVT is a great way to see the county.