West Park

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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 a historic Native American trail runs in the wooded bluff along the south edge of the park. It begins 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 wildlife of all sorts as if by magic. Wildlife ranging from birds to muskrats, from fish to many frogs and salamanders have all been spotted in West Park. The sights and sounds of redwing blackbirds and robins –signs of Spring-- now appear​ 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

Trees that have offered shade for hundreds of years, calming water and the spirit of Nature are all right here. West Park offers hints of what early Native peoples and Euro-American settlers once experienced here​.

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. ​

The paths in this park receive winter maintenance.

West Park Bandshell Pro​​​​​​ject -AUGUST 2023 UPDATE​

The West Park band shell has been closed since 2021​ due to structural issues, and the city is currently seeking community feedback to determine the next steps in how to move forward with this unique and historic amenity. Learn more here!​

Park Notices

Unless otherwise posted per City Council resolution, when a park is closed, no person shall remain in or enter it other than to quietly sit or walk.​

Refer to Chapter 39 of the City of Ann Arbor Code of Ordinances for park regulations and rules.

Park Hours

6 a.m. – Midnight

Amenities

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Drinking Fountain

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Playground​

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Basketball Court

 

Grills

Picnic Tables​​

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Baseball Field

 

Tennis Court​s

 

Trash & Recycling​

 

Paved Paths​

 

Historic Trail​


 
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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 nex​t 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. T​here 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.

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Public Transportation

The nearest bus stop to the main entrance is on Miller Avenue. There are bus stops next 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. ​​​​​​​​

History​​​

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 the land contained a stream where two branches from the west met a​nd flowed east into Allen Creek. The Native peoples who inhabited the area or traveled through would have had other names for Allen Creek and the 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. ​

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.​ A Parks department news article on Toms' greenhouse in 1882, had the words "Future West Park in Background" accompanying this photograph.

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An archeological survey found unremarkable historic, modern, and contemporary artifacts (like pieces of white ceramic dinner plates) in almost all areas​ of West Park. The land around the stream was likely used as a rubbish site. During 2009 construction activities part of a Model-T automobile with plates was found. The land may have been rescued 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 the water the naturally with plants and slow filtering through the ground.​

 '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. At first it was referred to as 'Westside Park' or 'West Side Park and Athletic Field.'

From this humble beginning, West Park grew in pieces – 28 piece​s in total… a possible record for Ann Arbor parks!​ – to its current almost 27 acres. Acquisitions occurred over a hundred year period, 1908-2009. In addition to outright purchases, many ways were used to acquire the land. The first 6 acres were on land contract. The largest piece came from a park commissioner buying and holding the land​ until the city could afford to buy it. 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. A 'West Park Time Line', a document in Parks Department files, summarizes developments in the park 1908-1995.  Baseball and tennis were in play within two years of West Park coming into being.Two ball diamonds were constructed right away. Rules were posted and soon a bleacher was built. Within five years land was exchanged for more space behind the backstop. Many tennis courts were built​ 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 it was not approved. 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. 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 i​s a suggestion in city records that the area where West Park was created used to be a skating rink. However, a local historian offered convincing evidence that the early skating rink 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 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. These 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.


I​n 1925 when the now-historic entrance Pergola was erected on the northern bluff. The land there, ​grounds of the old 3rd Ward/Mack School, had been obtained in a land swap with public schools. The marble pillars used in the original structure likely were salvaged from a former building in the area. 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. Events that have happened at West Park include school picnics, state championship cross-county races, and Interfaith Council for Peace events.​

West Park has also been the venue for a great number of music and theatre performances. In response to this, an open air concert shell was built. The shell received funding from the WPA (Works Progress Association), a New Deal program to help provide jobs during the Great Depression​​ and lift spirits. Over time the shell got the name 'Band Shell.' It has served as a 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 further exploring of the Band Shell's historical terrain

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 were getting worse​. Homelessness, drugs and alcohol and a lack of support for mental healthcare were all taking a toll on ​​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. Damaged​ 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​​. 

​West Park has come full circle, back to its early beginnings as a park with water flowing. As restorative openings for the stream and stormwater management have returned, wildlife appeared as if by magic. Birds, muskrats, fish, turtles, frogs, salamanders, bees, butterflies, dragon flies, all abound. The beauty of nature is​ right there at the edge of Ann Arbor's bustling downtown.​


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

Band Shell Updates

The historic bandshell was closed in 2021 due to safety concerns about​ 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. Doing so ​​could cost around $2 million. The fate of the structure has yet to be determined. Read more about the structure and its future​ 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/ParkPlanning

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