SOUTH HAVEN | Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy said it used to be that when you drove by the two parks in the community, you saw few people.
That is no longer the case as a result of big improvements that took place the past year at both Haven Hollow Park along County Road 700 North and Field of Dreams Park on McCool Road.
Two full-size baseball fields were renovated at Haven Hollow, including new fences, dugouts and infields, Clancy said. This work came in the wake of the new playground equipment installed the year before at the same site.
Three fields were renovated at Field of Dreams, including a concession stand, Clancy said. An ice rink also was built at the park this year, but the warm weather had thus far foiled plans for its use.
"Right now, it's a pond," he said in mid-January, voicing hope colder weather was around the corner.
The work at both parks cost close to $80,000 and was part of improvements called for in a master plan. Clancy estimated that 70 percent of the targeted work is done at Haven Hollow and about half is done at Field of Dreams.
The project has resulted in a noticeable increase in use of the facilities, which is important to the community that is believed to be the largest unincorporated area in the state, he said. The improvements are slated to continue this year and a foundation was created last year to help generate funds.
"I think parks are a definite priority," Clancy said.
Public safety also is a priority. Close to a million dollars was spent last year to purchase a fire engine, three other vehicles and related equipment for the South Haven Fire Department at 700 North and McCool Road, he said. The purchases were made without a tax increase because the money was borrowed at the same time the debt was paid off for the firehouse.
Laptops also were purchased for the department, which is made up of six full-time paramedics, five part-time chiefs, and 40 to 50 volunteers.
Last year also marked the kickoff of Summerfest at Haven Hollow, which is a fundraiser for the parks, Clancy said. The event, which is being lengthened from two to four days this year, features a carnival, music, beer garden and food.
This festival is just the latest in a growing number of events in South Haven, including the annual Fire Fest. Looking ahead to May, Clancy said the park foundation is planning on starting a bike-a-thon. The event will feature a ride of 10K or more both beginning and ending at Haven Hollow.
While the community is overseen by county government rather than a local governing body, entities such as the township office, fire department, Boys & Girls Clubs, Little League and Veterans of Foreign Wars all serve to keep the community close, Clancy said.
"It's a very tight-knit community," he said.