Parks Foundation - March Newsletter

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Ottawa County Parks Foundation - March Newsletter

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Green Investment: Parks offer healing, antidote for stress

By Ben Beversluis


Green Investment is a series about the positive impact of Ottawa County parks on the quality of life in West Michigan.

One crisis phone call can be plenty of stress for any one of us. Dealing with hundreds a day, as do the staff at the Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority, pumps up the cortisol to high-stress levels.

Fortunately, dispatch staff have an antidote just down the street: Ottawa County’s Pigeon Creek Park.

The dispatch office handles more than 800 calls on a typical day, and far more if there’s a storm or other major problem. And at any time, calls can be literally life and death – fatal car crashes, shootings, drownings.

“It’s a unique type of person who does this,” explained dispatcher and training officer Crystal Bakker. Staff are well-trained, and during a crisis they might go on autopilot. But afterward, they also need to take time to be mindful, to decompress, to work out the stress.

So, after Bakker or fellow dispatchers have a particularly rough call, or just extra busy day, you might find them meeting co-workers or family at Hemlock Crossing.

“It’s amazing what just going for a walk with kids, or going to park with spouse, can do for you,” Bakker explained. “It can be a great stress reliever.”

The dispatchers’ experiences are backed up by science. Numerous studies around the world show less mental distress, better heart and metabolic health and lower incidences of some 15 different diseases in people with increased exposure to nature and green space. Exposure to nature lowers cortisol and stress levels, researchers believe, which has a positive impact on all those other health issues.

With that in mind, the Peer Support Team at the Dispatch Authority recently focused on county parks in a wellness program.

“We’re trying to encourage self-care,” Bakker said. Dispatchers tend to focus on helping other people; a reminder to help themselves can be important.”

Other benefits have emerged, as well. Shift members get together outside of work to exercise, which is building a stronger sense of community in the department.

“It’s been good for a lot of people just to be active, and it’s decreasing negativity in the center, people being able to talk about a good time they’ve shared,” Bakker said.

Good times for Bakker have included park visits with her family.

“I love the parks and love taking my kids to them. It’s fun to see them explore and see the parks through their eyes,” she said. Pigeon Creek is a favorite close to home, and the stairs at Mt. Pisgah are a family challenge.”


Best Parks to Visit with Your Dog

Grand Ravines South, 3991 Fillmore St, Jenison. Grand Ravines South features a 21-acres of enclosed dog park, with separated fenced areas for large and small dogs. Additionally, there are fenced trails for off-leash walking. There is also an dog wash station.

Kirk Park, 9791 Lakeshore Dr N, West Olive. The southernmost area of the park allows for dogs to be off-leash on the beach. The area is accessible from the south beach stairs.

Dogs are allowed to run off-leash at all open space lands.

Upcoming Events

Art Show


May 16 at 7 PM, Hemlock Crossing County Park

Veterans of the Ottawa County Poor Farm - From Old Soldiers Homes that cared for Civil War veterans to the V.A. today, Americans have recognized the responsibility to provide haven for our nation’s wounded and aging warriors. But, not all in need found their way to those facilities. It seems oddly shameful and compassionate that a few, who ranged in service to the War of 1812 to World War II, both men and women, would end up at the Ottawa County Poor Farm. This is their story, one of patriotism, sacrifice, and remembrance. RSVP Today! This event is free, though donations are appreciated.

Thank you to our supporters!

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