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$300K for splash pad latest step to rehab bygone park in St. Clair

by Staff

Two decades ago, any family with children in St. Clair likely spent multiple nights a week at Little League games at Klecha Park.

In the years since Little League moved to Legacy Park on Fred Moore Highway, however, Karen Foley said it’s seemed like newer generations of residents aren’t familiar with the neighborhood park — at all.

Now, local community leaders hope a recent boost in funds will push plans to rehabilitate Klecha forward and bring them back to the site at Goffe and Palmer streets.

“People were asking at the Halloween (Party) for Tots program that Trice does down at the plaza,” Foley, who chairs St. Clair’s recreation commission, said of Trice Hawkins, the rec director. “People were saying, ‘Where’s Klecha Park? Where is this at? I don’t know anything about this park.’ Klecha Park used to be a destination park for the city of St. Clair’s residents. Our goal is to get it back to where it’s a destination and people want to go to Klecha.”

Plans for improvements at Klecha began with a subcommittee to bring a splash pad feature to a local park more than a year ago after resident Mike Barnum approached the city looking for a way to honor his late brother Don Barnum, a former sheriff and community figure.

Earlier this month, the St. Clair Cargill location announced a three-year $300,000 grant to support the city’s “ReCreate Klecha Park” effort, particularly the splash pad.

During a Jan. 8 City Council meeting, Hawkins said, “It was great for Cargill to step up, (looking) to take ownership of that splash pad.” This week, Foley said that means being part of the design process.

In a statement this month, Lee Westrick, Cargill’s processing superintendent in St. Clair, said they wanted to support something just down the road from them — in the shadow of their building and in the hearts of staff.

“Our employees, including those that have retired, have been proud supporters of our community,” he said. “Many of us remember our first base hit at the Klecha Park ballfields. We are happy to provide funding to get the Klecha Park project started.”

On Wednesday, Hawkins said they’d originally put together a splash pad rendering a year ago to show what sort of components could be included in the ideal 2,500-square-foot pad.

Moving forward, she said they would likely work with Cargill and other stakeholders before a bid package is issued by the end of February.

“We are trying to make it custom to St. Clair and the neighborhood. There’s going to be in-ground and above-ground features,” Hawkins said. They want to “make sure we have adequate seating and shade for the pad, too. That’s something we’ve identified as a priority.”

Additional donors, ways to help: What else is involved?

Hawkins said that much of 2023 was spent on looking for grants for the Klecha project, which is also supposed to include refurbishing the remaining ballfield, the addition of athletic or pickleball courts, a new playground and pavilion, and a walking path.

The city had applied unsuccessfully for SPARK grant funding through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But it also got a $140,000 boost from St. Clair endowments managed by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.

Earlier this month, appearing with Foley and Barnum, Hawkins told CTV Community Television’s Paul Dingeman the Community Foundation’s support would go toward the accessibility portion of the Klecha Park rehab. Additionally, with another $30,000 from St. Clair County Parks and Recreation for a pathway, the splash pad and courts, she said they were likely just over halfway in fundraising for what she called a million-dollar project.

This week, the St. Clair rec official said they hoped to set another community engagement session in the coming weeks for the effort, similarly to the input they got last spring.

Hawkins said they were looking for community support on the picnic pavilion proposed for Klecha, and particularly, the remaining ballfield to “carry on the tradition” some may still associate with the park.

She said they wanted to continue to welcome support from residents expressing interest, as in past park efforts. Those looking to contribute to the effort could find a donor form at StClairRec.com or contact parks and rec at City Hall at (810) 329-7121.

Since the effort began, Foley said crews have removed the dugouts from Klecha’s old minor league field and that an old storage building was taken down at the end of last year. She, too, encouraged people to get involved.

“People are seeing a little bit of activity down there. So, we’re hoping next to have a community outreach meeting sometime in February and get community members (involved). We’ve got a list of people,” Foley said. “When we did the raffle tickets down at the boat races (last year), a lot of people put their name down to say, ‘Hey, we’re willing help,’ and (we can) just go from there. Hopefully, we can break ground on something this summer.”

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected].

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