No asphalt paths meander the 26-acre Vassar Township Community Park, and no smartphone-charging stations greet visitors. If you want to play with your iPad or Lego Star Wars Death Star Final Duel set, this probably isn’t the place.
Not that family fun doesn’t occur at the two-year-old park in the Tuscola County backwoods.
“It’s rough, it’s rustic but it’s real natural,” said Randy Buchinger, a Vassar Township resident. “You can just enjoy yourself out there. Some of the trees are big enough for the kids to climb up on.”
Buchinger said his wife, Dorothy, cross-country skis at the park, and occasionally takes grandchildren Amelia and Colette Kelly of Jackson, and Nataleigh and Adam Buchinger of Lansing, there.
“This week we’ll have four different grandchildren with us, and she’ll end up taking them out there and walking them around and getting them some outdoor exercise,” Randy Buchinger said on Wednesday. “They just like being out where the trees are, with the trails that they have there.”
Russ Fall, Vassar Township resident who has volunteered to help create the park, occasionally jogs along the forest floor of the park at Saginaw and Caine roads.
“I have 1.6 miles of trails out there, so two loops would make a 5K run,” Fall said.
Park supporters plan to place a map of the trails at the site, covered with plexiglass, to identify the routes for walkers – or joggers. Those walking the outer perimeter of the wooded acreage travel about seven-tenths of a mile. A gravel parking lot provides access to the park, which features a large swingset.
“We don’t plow the parking lot but the park is open during the daylight hours and it’s the same as in the summer – if you can get in, you’re welcome to use it,” Fall said.
Bob Nowotny, 60, of Vassar Township, said the park is a favorite spot for him and his grandchildren: twins Isaiah and Natalie Hoerlein, both 8, and Luke Hoerlein, 5, of Tuscola County’s Denmark Township.
“My grandkids come to visit us a lot and when they come over, we like to take walks, and we’re really into nature,” Nowotny said. “Last year my granddaughter and I collected a whole bunch of frog eggs out there, and we kept them in our house and had them hatch.
“It was just the perfect opportunity for us to go out there, plus they have the swingset there and some sand hills where the kids bring their little trucks and goof around there. We go for a walk and the kids climb trees, and they do the things that kids should do. And it’s safe, so I really like the park a lot.”
The park’s creation didn’t come without debate. In October of 2013, Vassar Township’s Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to plan for the park. Trustee Sam Tester, a hunter, didn’t applaud the move, saying the park would destroy turkey habitat.
Fall calls the park acreage “a beautiful section of woods.”
Tester predicted human visitors to the park would cause turkeys to leave the parcel, though Fall disagreed with that, saying turkeys and deer still will roam the woods even after humans have begun traversing its trails. Nowotny said the park has benefited his family, and figures it will provide more good memories in 2017.
“I have kind of a little reunion where my brothers come and we do some golfing and some fishing, and we meet at our house, but we’ll probably have our little picnic down there this summer,” Nowotny said. “They have picnic tables out there and Russ (Fall) told me they’re going to build a pavilion.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.