Dwight Lydell Park is undergoing a multi-year, $1.5 million makeover that will include expanding and improving the parking lot on the west end of the park and relocating the old maintenance building. Kent County Parks Director Roger Sabine said the heart of the project and the long term goal is “naturalizing” Mill Creek through the park by removing the concrete walls and embankments, making it more accessible to park users.
“We’ve already had a section of concrete fall into the creek, and other sections are thinking about falling into the creek,” said Sabine. “We want to be proactive.
“The idea is to give the creek back to nature.”
Work on the project started in 2016. The main parking lot by the ponds is being torn out and reconstructed. When that is finished the new lot will provide parking for twice as many cars as it currently accommodates as well as creating better access to the picnic shelters, ponds and trails. Some of the trails near the ponds will be reconfigured. A new maintenance building has been constructed at west end of the park and the old building will be removed.
The concrete walls along Mill Creek were built mostly around the turn of the twentieth century to facilitate water management for the fish hatcheries that were located in the park. Besides just being in poor condition, the walls increase flood risks and degrade the quality of the stream habitat. Removing the walls and restoring Mill Creek to a more natural state will be completed in phases over several years. Sabine said the department has funds from multiple sources including Community Development Block Grant money, Kent County Capital Improvement funds, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Additional funds will need to be raised for each phase of the project.
The thirty-nine acre park is rich in local history and has been a focal point of the Comstock Park area since the area was first settled. One of the first businesses in Comstock Park was a saw mill built in 1839 where the Comstock Park Library now stands. A grist mill was built on the other side of Mill Creek in the 1870’s. In 1897 two leather tanneries were constructed at railroad spurs located on the west side of what is now Dwight Lydell Park. In 1896, the State selected the park area as the site for a fish hatchery. The park’s namesake Dwight Lydell was an expert in black bass propagation, and the State hired him to develop and manage the hatchery. It was in the mid-1890’s that the ponds and dams for the hatchery were built. At its peak, the fish hatchery covered the entire park. In 1946, the State, citing lack of demand for the local bass and disrepair of the facility, donated the thirty-nine acres to Kent County to be used as a park.
For more information about the Dwight Lydell Park renovations and to see photos, visit the Kent County Parks Department web site: https://www.kentcountyparks.org/dwightlydell/improvementprojects.php
For more on the history of Dwight Lydell Park go to the home page of the Comstock Park Downtown Development Authority web site www.comstockparkdda.org and click on Dwight Lydell Park.