Cascade Township image
Project partners, builders, and leadership pose outside the Cascade library following a kickoff ceremony on Nov. 17, 2023. Front row, from left: Susie Grubba, Cascade Parks & Recreation Director Melanie Manion, and Joann King. Second row: Ellen Gray, Marge Ohlman, Kathy Sullivan, KDL Regional Manager Lulu Brown, Joe David, Cascade Township Supervisor Grace Lesperance, KDL Regional Manager II Ashley Smolinski, and KDL Executive Director Lance Werner. Back: Harder & Warner Senior Designer Ben Leonard and Wes Landon, principal/landscape architect for Native Edge. See more photos on Cascade’s Facebook page.
Cascade Township, project partners break ground on new outdoor and event space next to library
CASCADE — “A place to meet friends.” That’s what Kent District Library’s Lulu Brown thought during a meeting this past summer. This session was just one of many she’s participated in regarding the outdoor garden and activity space planned for the sprawling Cascade library grounds.
Evolving for several years, the intent had always been to create a green gathering space for residents and visitors to enjoy. Now the project was quickly growing into a fully-fledged Cascade Township park. A more impactful name was needed to reflect that change.
“Since the project is a place to meet friends, make friends, and is being supported by the Friends of the Cascade library, it seemed natural to call this budding property ‘Friendship Park,’” said Brown.
“Since the project is a place to meet friends, make friends, and is being supported by the Friends of the Cascade library, it seemed natural to call this budding property ‘Friendship Park.’”
Kent District Library Regional Manager Lulu Brown
Now, Friendship Park – Cascade's eighth park – is beginning to take shape. On Friday, Nov. 17, a small crowd joined Brown on library grounds to official kick off this long-anticipated project.
“Today we lay the cornerstone on what will be a beautiful new gathering and event space for the township,” said Cascade Township Supervisor Grace Lesperance. “Friendship Park will be a place for families to gather, make memories, and appreciate nature’s bounty for generations to come.”
In attendance were Cascade Friends of the Library members, KDL Executive Director Lance Werner, KDL Regional Manager II Ashley Smolinski, Cascade Township Supervisor Grace Lesperance, Cascade Township Parks & Recreation Director Melanie Manion, and representatives from building partners Native Edge and Harder & Warner.
“There’s an epidemic of loneliness in this country,” said Werner. “Friendship Park will help to combat loneliness by building community in the public’s backyard.”
Construction has begun on the grounds of Friendship Park. Harder & Warner, the project’s general construction contractor, removed invasive trees and plants from a wooded area on the property while leaving native trees.
This project is moving forward thanks to a $450,000 Revitalization and Placemaking Program (RAP) grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. RAP funds are intended to support community revitalization needs through development of permanent place-based infrastructure. Cascade’s plans for a park and community gathering space on township-owned under-utilized property fit the bill. But it was the efforts of regional economic growth organization The Right Place that ensured Cascade’s grant application was competitive.
“The multi-purpose vision for Friendship Park really fit perfectly within the goals and spirit of the RAP grant. But the Right Place guided our hand through the application process,” said Cascade Township Manager Jade Smith. “We are grateful to have such a fantastic organization in our corner.”
Friendship Park furthers greater township plans
Building Friendship Park checks off multiple “wish list” plans for the township. The Cascade Township Strategic Plan, Parks Master Plan and the Cascade Downtown Development Authority’s Upper Village Plan all prioritize the need for a place-making, green gathering space. “Construction of Friendship Park moves us closer to fulfilling our vision of a vibrant Cascade village,” said Lesperance.
Friendship Park plans include an array of amenities, including:
• Native plant gardens and a meadow area
• Natural play and picnic areas with opportunities for passive recreation and parks programs
• Trails with interpretive signage
• Rain gardens to collect water runoff
• A pavilion for music and a host of other township and library-organized events year-round
“Friendship Park is designed to be a chameleon of an outdoor space,” said Cascade Parks & Recreation Director Melanie Manion. “There’s so much potential. The excitement this accessible, sustainable and natural space has brought is palpable.”
Total project cost is expected to be about $1.3 million. Additional project funders include The Friends of the Cascade Library, the Cascade Township DDA and a private donor.
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About the property and project
Like many KDL branches, the 3.5-acre property and the library building itself is owned by Cascade Township. Until this point, the portion in question has been maintained mostly as a turf lawn with a wooded area.
Already maintained by township Building & Grounds staff, the project was uniquely shovel-ready, according to Manion. Careful consideration was given to design the area in a way that required the same or less maintenance than a traditional turf lawn while creating native habitats. The conversion to multi-use park property also remediates invasive species issues with the site. During construction, the wooded portion will be cleared of Asian bittersweet and Japanese barberry. And, to assist construction crews, parks volunteers got a head-start on invasive removal on Oct. 28.
Accessibility is also a key component of Friendship Park. The upper park area incorporates the tenets of Universal Design, which strives for creating an environment that can be accessed and used by all people, regardless of age or disability.
These plans didn’t happen in a vacuum. “Development of this project has truly been a team effort,” said Manion. Friends of the Cascade Library organization, and the township Parks Committee have been integral in planning what will become Friendship Park.
About Building Partners
Harder & Warner, a Caledonia-based landscape design and construction business, is the project’s general construction contractor. They will be handling grading, installation of utilities and lighting, and hardscape (pavers, pathways and fountains – drinking and decorative).
Native Edge, a Grand Rapids-based company that specializes in native plant-focused spaces, is overseeing design and construction of the entire project. “Native Edge has been instrumental in assisting the township as the project scope expanded from a single phase to four phases,” said Manion. “Because of this project’s complexities, we felt it was necessary to have an overarching project manager to ensure a unified vision.”
“Native Edge has been instrumental in assisting the township as the project scope expanded from a single phase to four phases. Because of this project’s complexities, we felt it was necessary to have an overarching project manager to ensure a unified vision.”
Cascade Township Parks & Recreation Director Melanie Manion
Native Edge is also the landscape architect for Friendship Park. This means they will handle the installation of all native plants. And, to make sure these trees and shrubs thrive, Native Edge will monitor and maintain everything they’ve planted for the first two years following the park’s opening. “Native Edge is creating a space that will reduce long-term maintenance costs while increasing the character of the site,” added Manion.
For design and engineering of the pavilion, Cascade has selected The Design Forum, a Belmont-based architectural firm with a diverse portfolio of public and private projects under their belt.
Assisting the contractors through the duration of the project will be Cascade’s own Building & Grounds crew. “We know the terrain well,” said Cascade Township Building & Grounds Supervisor Ryan McCarty. “We’re ready to assist the builders and make this park a reality.”
Much of the earth moving and hard structures will be worked on from late fall 2023 to spring 2024. Construction is slated to be complete in June 2024 in anticipation of the popular July 4 activities and busy summer library schedule.
“Building a community is more than the construction of parks and facilities,” said Parks Director Manion. “It is finding ways to connect people around a shared identity and memories. We believe Friendship Park will be the fulcrum from which we can build a stronger Cascade.”
KDL’s Brown agreed. “We are so excited to see Friendship Park take off. We can’t wait to offer KDL programming literally in our backyard.”
About Kent District Library
Kent District Library is a public library system operating 20 branch libraries that serve nearly 440,000 residents of 27 different municipalities throughout Kent County. For more information, visit KDL.org.
About Cascade Township
Home to more than 19,000 residents, Cascade Township is committed to serving the public by providing the finest community services possible with respect, efficiency and integrity. With the Thornapple River at its heart, Cascade Township is recognized as an excellent place to live, work, play and raise a family. For more information, visit cascadetwp.com.
|Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Cascade Charter Township. For high-resolution images, please contact Cascade Township Communication Specialist Rich Lakeberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.