The white lit Capitol served as a beacon to gather round. They walked in from all directions, following the string of lights to their destination. They meandered the river trail from outer festivities. The Lansing City Market bustled with joyous activity with the Roller Derby Vixens doling out hot cider and cookies. There was also the chance to get photos and hugs with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Outside two reindeer (Prancer and Vixen or Donner and Blitzen?) allowed touches and feedings from the small Lansing folks. As the time neared groups began making their way up the trails, joining the rest of the flocks. Slowly, yet precisely, the attendees began to find their way into place; a wall 10 deep, from smallest to tallest lined the inner streets of Lansing, MI to watch. This is the twenty-seventh Silver Bells event. For the last 15 years the Electric Light parade has been one of the highlights of the night. Despite the blistery wind, which appeared to get blocked by the rows of observers, it was a beautiful mid autumn night in Lansing. Each year more and more seem to make it into town to see the show and partake of all that downtown Lansing has to offer. In the about section on the Silver Bells website they call this event an “extravaganza”. There really is no other word that would be more accurate. There are really only two events that showcases so much of the city; parades, fireworks, music concerts, hot cocoa, reindeer, holiday markets, music, police, fire and politicians. And Silver Bells in the City is one of them. It really brings us all together and says-“Look at this extraordinary city we have!”
City Saunter. It is a project, a mission, a goal, a determination to walk ALL the streets in Lansing. I’m not walking the River Trail. I’m not driving to a park and walking around maintained walkways. I’m walking on streets. Some of these streets have gorgeous sidewalks; well maintained, perfectly groomed sidewalks. Some do not. Some streets don’t even have sidewalks. I am really thankful that I didn’t include Lansing Township in this project because the idea of walking Waverly north of the river scares me. I rode my bike that way once. Once. I would never do that again. On top of the sidewalk situation add in the driver situation. I’ve decided that we not only have a bullying pandemic at school and on social media but also on the streets. I see drivers tailgating others to go fast. I see them weaving in and out of traffic, speeding their way to the red light. Today, while waiting for the bus with my twins on the side of the road, up the hill from our driveway, we were passed by a car that has been notorious for not slowing down as he passes us. Sometimes I give a little wave to have him slow down. This time I did not. However, he felt the need to turn around and come back and yell at my husband and myself about his right to drive the speed limit whether children are present or not. I am honestly still flabbergasted that a grown man would confront two parents who are on a hill waiting on the side of a busy road for the bus to pick up their kids. This wasn’t within the Lansing city limits but it painted my mood for today’s walk. I specifically picked a location where many walk the sidewalks everyday; downtown Lansing. During my walk I paid extra attention to the walkability of down town Lansing. As I suspected I saw many pedestrians, runners and bikers out. Despite a section of sidewalk that was closed I felt that a good amount of care is put into non vehicle transportation; crossing signs, maintained sidewalks and cars were cautious. I know projects are being put in place to promote a safer pedestrian environment.
It’s not easy being a pedestrian. There is no protection from the elements. There is no heat or air conditioning to turn on. It’s just you and the clothes on your back against the sun, wind, snow, ice, rain, sleet, and back to sun again. You are also without the safety of a vehicle. I could be vulnerable to an attack by person or animal. That is less likely in a vehicle. Whether a person is out walking for enjoyment or necessity; relaxation or betterment, they all deserve the right to feel safe and respected.
I’ve wanted to put this together now that I have a years worth of photography!
It was mid November, yet the air was warm. The sun danced in and out of the soft clouds. It was a perfect Lansing, November, fall day. And what was the O’Meara clan doing? We were sitting inside arguing and bickering with each other. Then I saw a family member post it; The Hawk Island Snow Park Inaugural Open House & Rail Jams hosted by Hawk Island Action Sports Operations Committee (HIASOC). Last winter when I decided to walk to all of my favorite sledding hills in Lansing (The Best Place to Sled, Angel Hill and the NorthSide Neighborhood and The Fourth Lansing Hill ) I was disappointed that Hawk Island was closed for reconstruction. I still listed it and waited anxiously for update information. Today’s news quickly got me moving. I loaded the family into the car and headed into town. To get in a walk, we parked at the end of Sunnyside and began our trek to one of the first Urban Snow Parks in the country.
Sunnyside runs parallel to Sycamore Creek Golf Course, which is now the only driving range in the area, mostly because the place floods like crazy every spring. It is a very majestic looking park with rolling hills and mature hard woods. Recently the Lansing River Trail was extended from Hawk Island through a path between this golfing area and Mt Hope Cemetery, connecting to the trail just south of the river. As we walked we could see bikers, runners and walkers enjoying this extended path. After stopping for a few photos we continued to the entrance to Scott’s Woods. This is the back way to Hawk Island. When I first started dating Pat (1989) he walked me down to this park. We explored the area using the multiple dirt trails to make our way to the lake there, the aircraft hangar and other significant sights. The woods had a notorious history but I was often in awe of the area. It has been amazing watching it transform into what it is today. There seemed to be more pedestrians out than I’ve noticed before. I thought it might be folks leaving the open house and that we had missed it. As we walked the left trail around the lake the new hill was visible through the trees. There was a small group up on top of the hill, so I had a small hope that we hadn’t missed all the festivities. However as we came up off the trail, it was evident that most of those present were the participants and hosts. We took a quick look around. There was still quite a lively atmosphere with music reverberating off the enormous
hill mountain and camera crews catching the stunts of experienced snow boarders showing their skills on a strip of ice with a rail at the bottom. We made a circuit of the activities; looked at the drawings for the end results and tried the practice snowboard. Ellie was quite good! Back at the hill many signs proclaimed that the hill was definitely closed; do not enter; keep off. I didn’t even dare ask if we could explore the top. So we headed out. As we were leaving, I passed someone I knew. And he knew me. We stopped to talk. I went to Otto and Eastern with Dwight Washington and we hadn’t seen each other since our 10 year reunion. I told him about the City Saunter Project I was doing and he asked if I would be interested in talking with someone in charge with this new venture. Um, YES!! He back tracked us to the base of the hill where I was introduced to Bob Ford with Landscape Architects & Planning the architect for this mountain adventure! I listened earnestly as he talked me through the process that allowed this new venture to become a reality. It seems,that having a really great idea and presenting it to the right people CAN produce something energetic, exciting and positive for the community! I loved hearing about the progress! However, as a mother of two 6 year olds (one of which had just put on a one woman show of angst and betrayal which included but was not limited to: crying, pouting, falling to the ground and crude facial expressions, because of our inability to get to the top of that new hill) what I really wanted to know was if it was possible for us to get to the top. Bob’s answer was, of course! He led us around the base of the hill, past the camera crews and snowboard practice strip, to a trodden trail straight to the top. As we hiked to the top, Bob explained that most of this hill’s materials had been donated through various local resources. It was his group that sculpted this multi-tiered sledding/tubing/snowboarding wonderland. They would continue to add to and form it until snow prohibited further work. At that point snow production would commence with the official opening date set for December 17, 2011. At the top I was also introduced to Pete Bosheff. Pete operates Urban Snow Parks LLC. I don’t think I am wrong to say this Urban Terrain Park is his brain child. I could tell from our conversation that he is passionate about bringing together those who can make his ideas come true. This obviously took a lot of cooperation between multiple groups; Ingham County Parks and Recreation, Modern Skate and Surf, just to name a few. But I saw a fire in Pete’s eye that showed a determination I hadn’t seen in a while. Both he and Bob talked about a commitment to get kids (and I would hope their parents) outside. They spoke of fizzled responses to great ideas; such as a crew team in Lansing schools. They talked about getting kids off the couch and outside and participating in something exciting. I have noticed an increase in movement in the Lansing area. I have more friends running than I have ever seen before. I have friends working hard to make Lansing a more pedestrian friendly city. As exciting as that is, it is still a scant number compared to the thousands that stay inside day in and day out. I hope that this new urban park, as well as the expansions of the river trail and bike lanes will motivate more people to get out and explore Lansing from the outside out. Bob’s quote to me and echoed by Dwight’s group is: No Child Left Inside. I like that. I hope everyone gets a chance this winter to try the new Hawk Island Snow Park. For those not into the snowboarding action, the area also has a sledding and tubing area as well!
Please check my facebook Page for more photos!
The last time I tried to get to the NEO center to check out its construction I ended up at a large building with all the windows boarded up. As I walked up the driveway, littered with broken down cars, I called to a man leaving one of those cars. As I asked if I had the right building, he turned from me and quickly began walking to the only door yelling for someone; seemingly distraught that I was there. I didn’t feel truly unsafe, but I was beginning to feel uncomfortable as eight large, non-English speaking men began filing out of the building, forming a half circle around me. Another man walked up to me and responded politely to my questions about the NEO Center. This was obviously not the NEO Center. I successfully
smiled a lot and let them know I was harmless used my charm and charisma to escape my perilous situation unharmed. Since that day I’ve learned the exact location of the REAL NEO Center and vowed to stop in for a tour. Today, as I rounded the corner of Grand River and Clark I could see construction workers outside the front. Although the landscaping and fresh mulch stood out on the block, it was the wall of windows that really drew my attention. The three-story building, with black metal railings, brick accents and gorgeous wood work sat poised like a regal prince amongst its new kingdom. Reaching the parking area I had the great luck of finding myself in step with one of the founding members, Paul Jaques. I requested a tour and he willingly obliged. Politely he led me up the stairs to the second floor main entrance. There Tom Stewart, another founding member, greeted me with a smile. Despite having a heaping plate of activities, such as running for city council, he still took time to pose for a few photos and make jokes. Leaving Tom, Paul and I continued our tour around the perfected three-story Center for New Enterprise Opportunity. On the main floor there are multiple common areas; conference room, printing room, exercise room and kitchen. There is also a private area for Kincaid-Henry Building Group who is moving their headquarters to this new location. There are also a set of private office areas. All but two have been rented so far. Each area rang out with its uniqueness. The floors are all original, refinished oak. Each office has a hand crafted door designed by Jay Belous; the owner of Against the Grain, an eco-friendly millworks company in Old Town, creating a distinct character to every room. Stepping out the back door (I thought Paul was showing me the parking area) we moved to the lower level. Through another key-coded door we toured the lower level of rentable work station areas and office space. The pleasant green colored walls; dark colored, open beamed, ceiling and freshly poured concrete floor provided a very comfortable work area. Back at the stairwell we waited patiently while the welders finished a section of railing and then we continued to the third floor. Of all the floors this was my favorite. The ceilings were also very high here with beamed ceilings and visible air ducts. The windows allowed an enormous amount of light into the area. The front section of the area was set up as “drop–in” space. For a small yearly fee students could use the space for studying or small business activity. Another large, open room was set up as possible rental space for the community. This floor also housed a handful of offices with many having roof-top views. Lastly, there’s the slide. Yes a slide. It’s a sleek, silver rabbit hole connecting the third level to the second level.
For a while this 1900’s building sat unused; crippled by a foreclosure status. Then something amazing happened. A small group of hard working and determined people joined together, inviting other like minded people to join them on a journey. They took a chance and decided to show what was real out there. They moved outside of the sky rises and downtown offices. They took the little red pill and plopped NEO right into the middle of the real working class. By doing so they stimulated a whole new group into action, including neighborhood cooperation, business investment and entrepreneurial collaboration. Lansing’s first incubator, located in Lansing’s north side, has been born into the real world to bring hope and inspiration to those it’s around and willing to join in on the adventure.
Press Release for NEO Center
About six months ago I took a wonderful morning stroll with Robin Miner-Swartz through her Westside Neighborhood. Despite walking over 3 miles in about an hour, there was still a large chunk of that neighborhood I didn’t get to. Today I walked another 2 hours and a total of 5.4 miles to complete that area. With only a small section of Jenison left to walk, I strolled every street east of the railroad tracks, south of Saginaw, west of MLK and north of Michigan Ave. It was a perfect fall day, with the sun warming the air nicely above 50. The leaves, in many places, were still delicately hanging onto their branches. Many of the homes still had Halloween decorations out, enhancing the fall experience. The organization of the streets made me very thankful for my portable map as I found myself at the corner of Genesee and Genesee at least twice!
Without this project, I am not sure I would have walked this area, ever. That seems a shame to me. I am really thankful that I get this opportunity to experience all of Lansing. I am joyous that Lansing has many historical neighborhoods to explore. I am hopeful that Lansing will continue to overcome so many hardships it has endured. It’s a special place for all of us. It’s an incredible place to call home.
The late autumn sun bursts out from beneath a dark blue strip of full clouds; shooting its amber glow across the tree tops. Within the hour it will dip below the tree line, fading the day into dusk, and finally into night. The globe topped street lights are already fired up, creating a glowing path for the adventure. Many homes along the way also dance in shades of orange and purple. Like mini theater stages the homes are adorned with glowing pumpkins, shimmering webs, masked creatures and other spooks. Even the trees participate in the ritual, tossing their brilliant orange and bright red leaves across the trail; creating musky smells and crunching sound effects. We leave the safety of our car with perfected costumes, faces painted and large bags open in anticipation of our first theatrics. The proper apothegm has been practiced and perfected. The show is about to begin; lights, camera–ACTION!
For the allotted time we continue this way; up and down the streets, laughing and meeting and Trick-or-Treating. It’s the one time of year when you fade gloriously away into another character. It offers the chance to pretend to be something delightfully scary, or funny, or pretty. It insists on creativeness, imagination and being foolhardy. The night’s perfect timing includes early darkness; crisp autumn air; full, rounded pumpkins and deep, earthy smells. For one night we are enticed, often encouraged, to engage in this charade. We mingle on the sidewalks; smiling, laughing and enjoying this voluntary parade through friendly neighborhoods.