City, Township host Russom Park dedication

Published 9:31 am Monday, September 14, 2015

Members of the Russom Park committee are joined by other public officials and youth soccer players in cutting the ceremonial ribbon at the local park Saturday morning. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Members of the Russom Park committee are joined by other public officials and youth soccer players in cutting the ceremonial ribbon at the local park Saturday morning. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

On a mild and breezy Saturday morning, Russom Park was the place to be for many Dowagiac families.

While dozens of young athletes played soccer at the facility’s fields, children swung on the swings and scurried about on the equipment inside the park’s playground while parents talked among themselves on the sideline of the fields. Other visitors walked and biked along the paved path winding around and inside the park grounds.

For the men and women responsible for the creation of these recreational opportunities, watching the activities occurring all around them that morning was all the proof they needed to know that the work they’ve poured into the local park these past several years was worth it.

Several years after the project to improve the local park took off, officials with the City of Dowagiac and Silver Creek Township formally dedicated Russom Park on Saturday. In addition to several prominent members of the community, attending the ceremony that morning were members of the committee responsible for spearheading the project over the last several years.

Named after Keith and Betty Russom, who allowed the Dowagiac Little League to play on 18 acres of their farmland on Yaw and Middle Crossing Road in 1969, Russom Park is a joint project between the city and township, with both contributing countless hours and resources to improving the park grounds since acquiring the 36 acres of land in 2008.

“The city and township saw a need, as well as an opportunity, to not just have some baseball fields, rather a park that would serve the people of the community, be it Silver Creek, Dowagiac, Pokagon, Wayne, LaGrange — anyone who would come and enjoy it,” said Mayor Don Lyons, who spoke during Saturday’s ceremony.

The inspiration for the project came from Gary Carlile, who devised the idea of a community wide park at the field while serving as the head of parks and recreation with the city, said Silver Creek Township Supervisor Bill Saunders. Working alongside several other city and township officials, Carlile and the Russom Park committee set about devising plans to improve the park grounds, which included the creation of soccer fields, an ADA compliant playground, and a walking trail.

“Without the township board, city council and mayor acting cooperatively and acting with a unified sense of purpose, something like this could not have happened,” said Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson. “If you look around the state, it’s really unusual to see this level of commitment and cooperation together.”

Spending primarily grant money awarded to the governments by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and donations from private organizations, foundations and individuals, the city and township accomplished many of these goals. The latest piece, the playground, went up last summer after a community-wide build, where volunteers throughout the area lent their time and muscles to building and erecting the new equipment.

What was once a humble playing field for little league games stands today as a complex that serves many different recreational needs, Anderson said.

“This is a community park, that incorporates so many different elements, young and old, to come here,” he said.

Saturday’s ceremony was an opportunity to celebrate how far the project has come and a chance to thank the many people who helped make it happen — but because the ribbon has been cut doesn’t mean the park is done evolving.

“We have visions for the park yet,” Saunders said. “As time goes by, we hope we will be able to fulfill those visions and complete this whole complex.”