Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation logo

West Park

Skip Navigation LinksHome » Departments » Parks and Recreation » Parks and Places » West Park
 

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

​​​Park Address:​ ​215 Chapin St, Ann Arbor MI 48103

Access          Am​enities          His​​t​​ory

Hours and Rules

Open 6 a.m.-midnight with quiet hours beginning at 10 p.m. No vehicles allowed in the parking lot from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Refer to Chapter 39 of the City of Ann Arbor Code of Ordinances for park regulations and rules. Smoking is prohibited, alcohol is prohibited, ​and dogs must be on leash.  ​

Overview

West Park is a large, open, roughly 27-acre park located at the edge of downtown surrounded by W. Huron Street, Chapin Street, Miller Avenue and N. Seventh Street. View the Ann Arbor Parks and Nature Areas map for location context. The park contains rolling grassy hills, majestic trees, a pond, wetlands, bioswales and plenty of things to do. An historic bandshell where numerous concerts, plays, and community events have taken place offers seating on a facing hill. There is a playground, softball field, and basketball court, and several tennis courts. Walking paths cross through the park, including part of an historic Native American trail. An historic pergola serves as a gateway at the north entrance off Miller Avenue. There are large and beautiful oaks located in the middle of the park, some with picnic tables under their spreading canopy. The tennis courts have parking off W. Huron Street but can be accessed from the main park area by taking the southeast wooden staircase up to street level.

The park's segment of an historic Native American trail runs in the wooded bluff along the south edge of the park, beginning a short distance from the West Park Native American Trail sign​ (walk along the grass to the trailhead in the woods).

Restorative openings for West Park's historical stream have brought back its voice and spirit in the flow of water and wildlife of all sorts appearing as if by magic. The activity of wildlife ranging from a variety of birds (including blue heron stalking the pond) to muskrats (eating native plants planted to naturalize the pond), from fish (including goldfish someone placed in the pond) to numerous little frogs and salamanders have all been recently spotted in West Park. The sights and sounds of redwing blackbirds and robins –signs of Spring-- now appear simultaneously in a riot of song. Raptors such as Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and Merlin can be seen hunting from the park's tall trees.

West Park features two Champion Trees , being the largest trees of their respective species in the city. The city's champion burr oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is located in the center of the park near the bandshell. The city's champion northern red oak (Quercus rubura) is on along Miller Avenue at the park's northern foot entrance. View both locations on the city's Champion​ Tree map

Oak trees that have offered shade for hundreds of years, the sound of water flowing, the sight of water pooling, the spirit of the wilds of Nature are all right here at the edge of Ann Arbor's bustling downtown. In a sense West Park now offers some whispered hints of what early Native peoples and Euro-American settlers once experienced here (though goldfish most likely were not part of that historic experience).

A collection of county and city groups help maintain the wetlands, bioswales, the pond, and upland areas of the park. Washtenaw County Water Resources does controlled burns about once every three years; burning is an important part of a healthy life cycle for the native plants in the wetlands and bioswales The Native American Trail and upland areas of the park are maintained by Natural Area Preservation and volunteers. 

​​​         

Band Shell Update  The historic bandshell was closed in 2021 due to safety concerns resulting from deterioration to the structural foundation. Protective fencing was installed around the boundary of the structure. Several options have been proposed for the future of the structure, including moving it to another location in the park, which could cost around $2 million. The fate of the structure has yet to be determined. Read more about the structure and its future possibilities in this article from MLive. Extensive public discussions seeking community input will be held before a decision about the Band Shell is made.

For project updates, please visit, www.a2gov.org/ParkP lanning

​​Access and Parking

There is a parking lot at the park's main entrance off of Chapin Street. There are five spaces for park parking adjacent to the tennis courts off of Huron Street on the south edge of the park. There is also some street parking along N 7th Street on the western border of the park. Refer to posted signage regarding parking rules and restrictions.

The park is accessible by foot and bicycle via the streets that border the park. There are sidewalks along 7th Street, Miller Avenue, Chapin Street, and Huron Street on all four sides of the park, and there are pedestrian entrances on all four streets. There are bike lanes along Miller Avenue on the north edge of the park. There are bike racks at the main park entrance off of Chapin Street.

Public Transportation: The nearest bus stop​ to the main entrance is on Miller Avenue, and there are bus stops adjacent to the park along both Miller Avenue and Huron Street​. Visit The Ride for schedule and route details or check out the parks ride guide. ​​​​​​​​


picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture

​​​

​​​Using a phone? - Click for a GPS Tracker and Wayfinding Map

Amenities

 

Volunteer

There are ongoing and limitless opportunities for volunteering and getting engaged with the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Services Unit. GIVE 365 and the seasonal Adopt-a​-Park Program offer volunteer opportunities ranging from a 90 minute commitment, to a more long term, ongoing role. Natural Area P​reservation also has volunteer opportunities that support their mission to protect and restore Ann Arbor's natural areas and to foster an environmental ethic within the community. If you are feeling the call to volunteer or give some time, reach out or explore the websites above to see what’s upcoming or how to get involved.​​

Report a Problem - A2 Fix It

To report any maintenance issues or other problem during your park visit, please report through A2Fix It. When reporting an issue in a park please include location details. There is a details and description section near the end of the request process to help you provide this. In addition, users can utilize the pin (website) or X (mobile app) feature to provide specific location information inside the park. Finally, please consider including a wide angle photo or include background landmarks, which helps staff find and fix the problem.

Gifts and Donations 

Information on donating to the parks and the Guide to Giving can be found here. Alternatively if you have a special project or park improvement idea that you want to donate your time and energy toward, a great place to start is through Adopt-a-Park and the proposing a special park project guide. For information on donating a tree through Adopt-a-Park, the tree donation guide can help you get started.​

History​

​Ann Arbor's city parks sit on the ancestral and traditional homelands of several indigenous Native peoples. Read a land acknowl​edgement​​ from the city and learn more about the early history of the land here​.​​​

The land that is now West Park has served as parkland just west of Ann Arbor's downtown since 1908. In the city's early days, and no doubt when the Native American trail in the park was in frequent use, the land contained an open-flowing stream where two branches from the west met a​nd flowed east into Allen Creek (called Allen's Creek by early Ann Arborites). The Native peoples who inhabited the area or traveled through would have had other names for Allen Creek and possibly names for West Park's stream feeding into it.

The stream shaped the Native American Trail​ that runs east-west in the woods at the southern edge of the park. A sign at the Chapin Street entrance can connect you with Native American lives as you walk the trail. (​​In the photo the trail's starting point is in the middle of the gold circle​… start there, not on the sandy footpath next to the children's play area.) To connect with West Park's history in body and spirit… walk the Native American Trail and let history and the present merge.

The stream also played center stage in shaping the park. Early development occurred on the bluffs around it, not beside it. This left mostly open ground for grazing and watering horses, cows, and other domestic animals kept by residents on the bluffs. The stream was also used for watering plants at J. Toms' greenhouse and formal English gardens at Miller and Chapin streets, established in 1858.​

​​

An archeological survey found unremarkable historic, modern, and contemporary artifacts (like pieces of white ceramic dinner plates) in almost all areas​ of West Park. suggesting the land around the stream was used as a rubbish site. During 2009 construction activities part of a Model-T automobile with plates was found. In a sense, the land may have been rescued and revitalized by becoming parkland.

In the late 1920s the stream's waters were corralled to flow in drain pipe unseen underground​. Part of the stream was brought back into the sunlight as West Park was transformed in 2009 into a stormwater management system. Bioswales, wetlands, and a pond were created to handle stormwater runoff increasingly flowing into the park from the stream's highly developed and paved watershed. The water system was also designed to clean and enliven the water the old-fashioned way with plants and slow filtering through the ground and with amazing swirl concentrators.

At first referred to as 'Westside Park' or 'West Side Park and Athletic Field', 'West Park' came into being with the purchase in 1908 of four parcels of land totaling about 6 acres​​. With this land came frontage on Chapin Street. Only one house had to be moved to make it parkland.

From this humble beginning, West Park grew in pieces – 28 pieces in total… a possible record for Ann Arbor parks!​ – to its current (2022) almost 27 acres. Acquisitions occurred over a hundred year period, 1908-2009. In addition to outright purchases, all sorts of ways were used to acquire the land. The first 6 acres were on land contract. The largest single piece came by a devoted park commissioner buying and holding the land until the city could afford to buy it, and land swaps with public schools also shaped West Park. Providing access to West Park has also been no small challenge. Lots have been obtained for frontage on a street. When no street frontage was available, a lot with a right of way to the street was obtained. When West Park-east and West Park-west were separated by private property, permission was obtained to use a railway right of way for a path through.

Visions of athletic fields danced in the heads of the park board and city alike when creating West Park and carried on through time. A 'West Park Time Line', a document in Parks Department files, summarizes developments in the park 1908-1995.  Baseball (sometimes as 'base ball') and tennis were in play within two years of West Park coming into being in the flat land provided by the original land purchases. Two ball diamonds were constructed right off the bat. Almost immediately rules were posted. Soon a bleacher was built. Within five years land was exchanged for more space behind the backstop. Tennis courts proliferated in the early years of the park. One clay tennis court appeared in 1910, courts grew to three in total in 1914, five in total in 1928. The first paved tennis courts, two asphalt courts, entered the scene in 1965.

West Park has had a basketball court in one location or another for many years. When basketball was introduced in the park, however, is not clear. The Park Board was petitioned for a basketball court in 1910, but authorization was not granted. Curiously, no mention of a basketball court appears in the Park Department's West Park Time Line.

The first children's playground in West Park came into being in 1915 when the public schools board was given permission to use part of West Park as a playground. The following year toilets with water tap were constructed in the park.​

Sledding on the hills was probably a favorite winter activity long before the hills were officially within West Park boundaries. There is a suggestion in city records that the area where West Park was created was a skating park early in Ann Arbor's history. However, a local historian some years ago offered convincing evidence that the early skating park was on the other side of Miller Avenue.

In the early 1930s an artificial lake was built in West Park for ice-skating in winter and wading in summer. The lake was a city relief project to help employ workers during the depths of the Great Depression. The lake appears to have lasted for about fifteen years, at which point it became a danger and was filled in. After that time, temporary ice rinks were formed in wintertime so ice-skating could continue in West Park. Wading pools appear to have been constructed as early as 1938 and 1944 but were difficult to maintain, given Ann Arbor winters and frequent freeze-thaw cycles. Over time wading pools​, like the artificial lake, disappeared from West Park.

         

A formal architectural structure, one having nothing to do with sports, appeared in 1925 when the now-historic entrance Pergola was erected on the northern bluff. The land there --grounds of the torn-down old 3rd Ward/Mack School-- had recently been obtained in a land swap with public schools. Readers keen on repurposing materials might like to know that the marble pillars used in the original structure likely were salvaged from a demolished building somewhere in the area. The inspiration for the Pergola is shrouded in mystery but ripe for speculation. What is known is that the Pergola was erected by the Superintendent of Parks, Eli Gallup, from plans made by a Mr. O'Dell.

Over the years West Park has been host to countless community activities. The park has experienced pageants with various themes sometimes with attendance as high as 2,500 people. Ann Arbor High school band practice, children's rhythm band playing, Jones School pre-school picnics, Mack School picnics, Community High School end-of-the-school-year parties, state championship cross-county races, Easter egg hunts, and Interfaith Council for Peace events such as 'Heart-to-Heart for the Homeless Walk' all occurred at West Park.

West Park has also been the venue for a great number of musical and theatrical performances. These performances were to grow into larger activities and proliferate following creation of another architectural structure added to West Park -- an open air dramatic and concert shell -- for outdoor performances. Construction of the shell received funding support from the WPA (Works Progress Association), a New Deal program to help provide jobs during the Great Dep​ression​ and lift spirits in those discouraging years. Over time the shell acquired the name 'Band Shell', and it has served as concert stage and theater plus the focal point for community and charitable events. ​

The Band Shell became a part of the park in 1938, roughly a decade after the Pergola. A home-grown structure designed by the Department of Public Works with Bernard DeVries as Public Works Department architect, the Band Shell project was supervised by the City Engineer. Like the Pergola, the Band Shell was listed on Ann Arbor's Register of Historic Places in 1995.

         

A Silver Star Award project sets you traveling a brief history of the Band Shell and options for its future​​. A deeper plunge into times and events allows furth​​er e​xp​loring of t​he Band Shell's historical terrain​​​​​. 

Whereas the Band Shell is a multi-purpose structure serving as a venue for both entertainment and community service events, the West Park Shelter, built thirty years after the Band Shell, was a multi-purpose structure for sports and community events. Shelters in West Park have come and gone. The early ones seem to have served mostly as warming areas for winter sports. The most recent shelter, however, was designed for both summer and winter use. It was also intended for community meetings and for voting purposes. With Robert C. Metcalf as architect, the shelter followed a design with both open and enclosed parts.

The eventual demise of the West Park Shelter seems more related to social ills than to structural problems. By the 1980s social conditions across the nation, including in West Park, were deterior​ating​. Homelessness, drugs and alcohol, and reductions in state support for mental healthcare were all taking a toll on such an accommodating structure as the West Park Shelter. Around 1980 the shelter's exterior benches were removed and its outdoor fireplace was covered. Social ills continued into the 1990s, and the shelter continued to attract problem behaviors. At some point, most likely in the mid to late 1990s, the West Park Shelter was torn down.​

Renovation of West Park in 2010/11 followed on the 2009 stormwater project​ that transformed water flow in West Park. Concrete retention walls for seating at the Band Shell were added to the hill facing it. A piece of public art –TREEform—was added as a feature in the Band Shell's seating area. The historic Native American trail was given better attention. The basketball court was moved out of the floodplain. Project Grow gardens were added. The network of paths was rebuilt, adding a boardwalk along the pond. Deteriorating stairways going into the park from Huron Street were replaced. Numerous black willow saplings --offshoots of earlier large, elder trees-- were planted and now (in 2022) rise 30 feet or more. The renovation project together with the stormwater management project revitalized the park. Memories of t​hose projects and more offer interesting insights into West Park​​. 

​In some respects, West Park has come full circle back to its early beginnings as a park with water flowing through it. The restorative openings for the stream and stormwater management have returned a part of the stream's voice and spirit in the flow of water and wildlife appearing as if by magic. Birds, muskrats, fish, turtles, frogs, salamanders, bees, butterflies, dragon flies, all abound. The sound of flowing water, the sight of pooling water, a touch of the wilds --hints of what early Native peoples once experienced-- are all right there at the edge of Ann Arbor's bustling downtown.


A performance at the Band Shell in 1988 (picture from AADL)


​Updated October 2022. Email [email protected]​a2gov.org for incorrect/outdated information.​