Cass County approves grant applications for TK Lawless Park improvements

Published 12:57 pm Friday, March 25, 2022

CASSOPOLIS — A popular county park is one step closer to upgrading its facilities. 

The Cass County Board of Commissioners on Mar. 17 approved two grant applications for renovations to Dr. T.K. Lawless International Dark Sky Park in Vandalia. If approved, the grants will fund about $728,000 of the $1.5 million dollar project through Michigan’s Land and Water Conservation fund, as well as the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. In the resolutions, the county has pledged the remaining funds for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The park is one of two county parks in Michigan to have the Dark Sky Park designation, which is “land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and public enjoyment,” according to the International Dark-Sky Association.

“I’ve never seen more enthusiasm for the Cass County parks than I’m seeing right now,” said Cass County Parks Department Director Scott Wyman. “Not only from the Cass County Parks and Recreation commission, but the leadership committee of Cass County, the board of commissioners and the citizens of Cass County.”

Prior to the approval of the resolutions, Wyman showed a video walkthrough of the guest experience at the park, showing what improvements need to be made to upgrade the park. He provided side-by-side photos of what the current park’s roads, fee station and parking lots look like compared to what they could look like. 

“Most of our structures are 30-plus years old … The driveway is failing, it’s in terrible need of resurfacing,” Wyman said. “Every time it rains, we have washouts.”

Wyman said the proposed improvements include a splash pad, nature center, and renovations to the 30-plus year old Schug Pavilion, which is available to rent for parkgoers. 

“The Schug is our focal point,” he said. “I cannot overestimate how important that shelter is in the programming of Cass County parks. … Weddings, company picnics, so many things happen at that shelter.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Jones asked Wyman about whether the county would see a return of its investment through tourism dollars.

“It is absolutely part of the plan,” Wyman said. “The park is extremely popular right now, and the fees are very modest. With these enhancements, we will be able to probably charge a little but more based on input from the leadership in the community.”