Dr. T.K. Lawless Park is ‘hidden gem’

Published 10:18 am Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tubing at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park. (Submitted photo)

Tubing at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park. (Submitted photo)

Scott Wyman, director of Cass County Parks, has a goal: to introduce more people to what he calls “an often-overlooked winter wonderland.”

That wonderland is the Dr. T. K. Lawless Park, located at 15122 Monkey Run St. in Vandalia, Mich. It is named in honor of the Chicago-based doctor who donated the land to Cass County in appreciation of the friends he made during his retreats there.

The park’s 820 acres provide the setting for a wide variety of outdoor activities year-round.

“We allow people to use the property in many ways,” said Wyman, who has been with Cass County Parks for 27 years. “The park hours are seven days a week from sunrise to sunset.”

During the winter months, visitors to the park can enjoy sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing on a daily basis.

One fun way to get a taste of T. K. Lawless Park is to visit during their Discover Winter Nights program. These family-oriented events will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. on five Saturday evenings, including Jan. 18 and 25, and Feb. 1, 8 and 15.

Daily admission to the park is $1 for county residents and $3 for non-residents. However, on Discover Winter Nights, admission is $2 per person, which covers the cost of using the cross-country ski trails, the sledding hill, and some other activities as well. A small parking fee is also charged.

“We’ll light up our tubing hill that evening. We provide innertubes. People can also bring their own tubes as well. We allow plastic sleds, but no sleds that you would stand up on,” Wyman said. “So, we don’t allow any toboggans, snowboards, or runner-type sleds. We try to promote soft plastic sleds and innertubes. We’re pretty safe out there.”

“We have seven miles of hiking and cross-country trails, and I can groom all seven miles,” Wyman said. “For Discover Winter Nights, I mark out three miles of cross-country trails with smudge pots —the flattest and easiest trails. It can be very beautiful in the evening.”

While the park does have innertubes, it does not provide skis or snowshoes. So, people who wish to enjoy those activities must bring their own.

Other fun activities that Lawless has offered during Discover Winter Nights are sleigh rides and hayrides, which cost an additional $2 per person.

“In the past, we’ve had sleigh rides and hayrides, either horse- or wagon-drawn,” Wyman said. “We’re still making the final plans for that. On a cool, crisp winter evening, the kids really get a kick out of it.”

The park also has two areas for visitors to warm up and to enjoy indoor activities.

“Our ‘Friends’ group provides refreshments in the warming area. We have a fireplace in there for people to warm up,” Wyman said. “And, new for this year, we recently built a maintenance building where we have a 50-person capacity community room.”

“We’ll have a movie night there during our Discover Winter Nights on Jan. 25. We’ll also have a craft night on Feb. 8 where kids can make a craft to present to their parents for Valentine’s Day,” Wyman said.

“This new community room is also available to rent throughout the year for birthday parties and other events. It has modern bathroom and kitchen facilities, but there is no fireplace in there,” Wyman said.

Dr. T. K. Lawless Park also accommodates visitors who wish to go ice fishing.

“We have four lakes on the property for ice fishing,” Wyman said, “two smaller ones that are 10 acres or so each, and two larger lakes on the eastern side of the property.”

“They have a variety of panfish. We’ve got some hardy souls that like fishing the lakes,” Wyman said. “We follow all of the DNR rules for limits and licenses.”

Those lakes can also be fished in the spring, summer and fall. Many other activities can are offered throughout the year at the park, including a trail system that is popular with cyclists.

“People can find us on Facebook at Cass County Parks or call (269) 445-4456 if people are wondering if we are going to have an event due to weather conditions,” Wyman said.

More information can also be found on the park’s website at www.casscountymi.org/CountyParks/DrTKLawlessPark.aspx.

Wyman hopes that more people will come and take advantage of the beautiful property that Dr. Lawless donated to the county.

“I often hear folks say the park is a hidden gem of southwest Michigan,” Wyman said.