Bronson Park work will revamp Kalamazoo’s ‘front porch’

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Major changes are underway at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo after commissioners voted in March to remove the controversial Fountain of the Pioneers.

On Monday, workers started the overhaul by removing the sculptures of children in the reflecting pool across from the fountain. Those will eventually return to the park in a different spot.

But the Fountain of the Pioneers, which is expected to be taken down in a couple weeks, will be gone from the park for good.

The fountain, which shows a European settler with a sword or club in his hand standing over a Native American, is a piece of history. It’s been in Bronson Park since 1940. But critics say the display is racist.

“I have no issue with public art. I just don’t feel that Bronson Park was the right location for that piece of art,” Sean Fletcher, the director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Kalamazoo, told 24 Hour News 8.

The Fountain of the Pioneers statue will be put into storage for now. Where it will go next is still unknown. City leaders are working to find a new home for it, ideally somewhere else in Kalamazoo.

But what will happen at Bronson Park, at least in the short term, is becoming clearer. Fletcher said the two concrete pools that contain the fountain and sculptures will also be torn out and replaced by grass. Ideally, that will be completed by the end of May.  

“It would give people an opportunity to throw out the picnic blanket. It gives more space for concerts in the park and such, activities on the stage,” Fletcher said.

The issue now is what the park will look like long term. A master plan approved in 2016 called for the fountain to be renovated, not removed.

“That’s why we kind have to take that step back now and really work with the community, the stakeholders to figure, OK, if we’re not going to have the fountain there, is there something else we want to do?” Fletcher said.

City officials think much of what was in the master plan, which calls for irrigation upgrades, electrical and sound improvements, and an ice rink that doubles as a splash pad, will still work.

Controversial or not, Fletcher said changes and upgrades at the park are long overdue.

“It’s referred to as the front porch of our community. And you don’t want to have a not so great front porch, right?” Fletcher said. 

The hope is to start long-term renovations sometime next year

>>App users: Photos of work at Bronson Park

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