LAMBERTVILLE - It hasn't quite been two years since voters in Bedford Township passed a 0.25-mill tax increase to improve the township's four main parks and their old playground equipment.
Last week, the final piece of nearly $300,000 in brand new state-of-the-art playground technology was installed in Parmalee Park in Lambertville. Its installation marks the culmination of a process that has quickly transformed Parmalee, Carr, White, and Samaria parks into true "play destinations" for tots and parents alike.
"You can't believe the letters we've received from people complimenting us as a board on what's been done with the parks," said Linda Barr, who is retiring this year after spending almost 16 years on the Bedford Township Parks and Recreation Board. "Every park has been just totally revamped."
The playscape installed last week in Parmalee is similar to the smaller version installed last year in Samaria Park, township officials said. Both of those playscapes were installed by the manufacturer, unlike the larger versions in White and Carr parks that were erected largely through massive volunteer efforts in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
While the playscapes represent significant investments themselves in the parks, they are only a small part of the total funds spent on improvements since township voters passed a first-ever parks levy by a wide margin in 2002.
In total, the park board has spent nearly $650,000 improving the four parks with things like fencing, shelters, landscaping, ball diamonds, and water fountains, Mrs. Barr said.
"I'd been on the board two years when we first tried to pass a millage, and I think only a handful of people voted for it. But since we passed the millage [in 2002], we've had the money to redo the parks," Mrs. Barr said.
"The one thing you can see with our millage, you can see where the money went," she added.
Several years ago, Bedford Township faced a dilemma: its playground equipment was aging and there was no wellspring of money from which to draw to fix the problem.
Local officials finally secured a $177,000 grant in 2001 from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to replace the playground equipment in White Park.
"The old equipment couldn't be used anywhere because state standards wouldn't allow it," township clerk Bob Schockman said. "The [equipment] that we played on as kids, you can't even put in anymore."
Now that Parmalee is being completed, Mrs. Barr said the park board will turn its attention to a handful of "tot lots" across the township - small neighborhood parks that also need updating.
The 0.25-mill park levy, which costs the homeowner of a $200,000 home $25 a year, will expire next year if the park board decides not to seek a renewal.
If it does ask voters to renew the levy, Mrs. Barr said plans call for the park board to begin tying its inventory of facilities together with a system of walking trails, answering a long-standing need in the township.