Plan for in-line rink draws ire from hockey players

Alex Doty • May 16, 2017 at 10:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The Township Board’s plan to remove the in-line skating rink at Mercury Park and replace it with pickle ball courts is drawing criticism from players who say they still actively use the facility.

Grand Haven resident Evan Curtis said he and his friends use the rink as often as they can, and hope it can be saved.

“The impact on me and my friend group in general would be substantial because it’s something we all enjoy doing, and it’s local and doesn't take a lot to do,” Curtis said.

Added Curtis: “There hasn't been a single long period of time in nice weather where I haven't seen somebody out there using the facility or haven't been out there myself with my friends.”

An online petition is being circulated as a way to let the township officials know that people still use the space. The petition — located at www.thepetitionsite.com/376/525/922/keep-mercury-park-rink/ — currently has more than 1,000 signatures.

“Many of them being adults saying they love the rink and plan on taking their kids there to use it someday,” Curtis said. “Or people take their kids there already and all agree that pickle ball courts will be used substantially less than the rink.”

A community rally is being planned for Saturday, May 20 at noon at Mercury Park, 16227 Mercury Drive.

This past Sunday, several people gathered at the park holding signs reading, “I learned to skate here,” “We won’t fall to pickle ball,” “Honk for Hockey” and “Hockey lives matter.”

Zak Wiersma was one of those in attendance Sunday. 

“My mom talked me into going out to protest,” he said. “So after work I did just that. I was by myself, then my friend Hayden Gerwig joined up, then it blew up from there.”

Township officials have said the existing rink requires “significant maintenance,” with cost estimates ranging from $25,000 for basic maintenance and repairs, up to $80,000 to do entirely complete the project.

At a recent board meeting, the Township Board instructed staff to proceed with the design and construction of pickle ball courts at the park. Officials say they believe they can fit as many as 7-8 courts in the space occupied by the rink.

The cost for the new pickle ball courts is estimated at $115,000, with funds coming from the township’s General Fund balance, which officials have said has enough of a balance beyond the recommended six-month cushion.

Despite township officials saying the rink needs major repairs, those who use the rink say a few cracks in the surface hasn’t deterred them from playing.

“The condition of the rink has never been the issue of the play at the park. Nobody has been hurt or injured because of the condition, and there has never been a singe issue at least in the time that I've been going,” Curtis said.

Curtis added that he wishes more people could join the current group who plays there, and use the facility in league play.

“Maybe the township could spend some money on organizing a league, or trying to get another organization to do it like there used to be like NORA,” he said. “That would be awesome because I would join.”

NORA – the Northwest Ottawa Recreation Authority – used to use the rink for its inline skating league, but participation in that league has declined sharply over the past several years, from a high of 420 participants in 2001 to just 24 in 2015. The league was canceled in 2016. 

At the most recent Grand Haven Township Board meeting on May 8, Township Manager Bill Cargo noted that he had received correspondence from people who didn’t want to see the rink taken out.

He also noted that the Grand Haven rink isn’t the only in-line rink in the area — there’s another located at Central Park in Spring Lake.

Cargo also noted that the board may take action on a proposal for pickle ball court design at its next meeting, and encouraged users of the facility to come up with numbers and figures of how many people use the facility for pick-up leagues and games, which might help sway the Township Board’s decision on what to do with the park.

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