Macomb Township Parks Director Sal DiCaro has been with the department since 2002 and said the department, and community, have grown over the past 20 years.

Macomb Township Parks Director Sal DiCaro has been with the department since 2002 and said the department, and community, have grown over the past 20 years.

Photo by Deb Jacques


‘Building a sense of community’

Parks department celebrates 20 years as it looks to grow

By: Joshua Gordon | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 30, 2018

  The Recreation Center opened in 2004 and the pool has been a major attraction, helping the center rack up 229,000 visits in 2017.

The Recreation Center opened in 2004 and the pool has been a major attraction, helping the center rack up 229,000 visits in 2017.

Photo by Deb Jacques

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Macomb Township Supervisor Janet Dunn remembers people being critical of the community putting money in to building parks in the early 2000s.

Waldenburg Park opened off 21 Mile Road in 2002, and Macomb Corners Park followed in 2004 off 25 Mile Road. It didn’t take long for Dunn to see that the township was right to invest in parks.

“On the first spring day after (Waldenburg) park was open, you couldn’t find a parking spot,” said Dunn, who has been involved in Macomb Township government for 34 years. “Ever since then, the parks have been very busy and children in that area are always going. You see families going there and pushing kids on swings or down slides, and it is very rewarding.”

The Macomb Township Parks and Recreation Department is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018. The department started in 1998 with its first summer programming after a parks millage of 1 mill was passed in 1996 by the residents.

Parks Director Sal Dicaro came on board in 2002, replacing the township’s first parks director, and has held the position for 16 years. Coming to the township with the first park just opening, DiCaro said it was exciting to basically be heading a new department.

DiCaro has a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation, with a master’s degree in administration. He has been working in parks departments, including those in Eastpointe and Chesterfield Township, for 35 years.

At that time in 2002, DiCaro said there were already preliminary plans for Macomb Corners Park, as well as the Recreation Center, which both opened on the same day on July 19, 2004.

“This was like a dream come true job for me,” DiCaro said. “When I got here, only one park existed, and we started the plans for both the Recreation Center and Macomb Corners Park. So it was two pretty big projects in the first couple of years.”

Around that same time, however, DiCaro said the population of Macomb Township was growing. According to data from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, Macomb Township had a population of just over 50,000 in 2000, and now the population is around 88,000.

The growth resulted in a phase two for the Recreation Center and Macomb Corners Park, DiCaro said, which both opened in 2007. The phase added more space at both and doubled the number of sports fields at the park.

DiCaro said the Recreation Center was a top priority for residents during a survey that was done in the early 2000s. Today, the center has around 5,000 members and had nearly 229,000 visits in 2017.

“The rec center has been opened for 14 years and it is as popular as the day we opened,” he said. “Both the center and park took off so well and the community was growing in leaps and bounds that we knew we needed more space. We probably don’t have enough right now, at least park-wise.”

A big reason for the parks department being created was many of the families moving to Macomb Township were coming from the southern end of Macomb County, DiCaro said, from cities that had park amenities.

Dunn said if you look at the pool on any day it is open and see how busy it is, it is proof how important parks and recreation is to the community. Especially for those families that don’t have a ton of outdoor space at their homes.

“I remember when I was little, we used to have baseball games and have fun outside after dinner,” Dunn said. “Now people have swimming pools or trampolines or small lots and not much of a backyard. The parks give people the chance to enjoy the outdoors and they are willing to pay the millage to support our programs.”

DiCaro said the department prides itself on offering at least 10 free events each summer, from concerts in the park to picnics with Rosco the Clown. The Recreation Center also hosts a number of annual events, such as at Easter, Halloween and Christmas, with all either free or at a low cost to residents.

At the Recreation Center, swim lessons, fitness classes and dance courses have been staples, but DiCaro said they also keep an ear to the ground to see what residents are interested in or what other communities are doing. Proof of that is the expansion over the past five years of pickleball, especially among the seniors.

“I think there is something for everyone here,” DiCaro said. “You kind of see trends of what is popular and we are always looking for feedback.”

At the end of 2017, the Macomb Township Board of Trustees approved a new five-year parks master plan. Walking paths, a dog park and a splash pad are future goals, but DiCaro said the biggest item is acquiring more park land.

With more parks, it can draw more families to Macomb Township, he said, and continue to help grow the parks department for years to come.

“I think parks help build a sense of community,” DiCaro said. “I am extremely proud of the things we have accomplished the past 20 years and look forward to providing quality recreational experience for residents for many years to come.”