On June 22, 2015 the city of Portland, Michigan experienced something weather at its worst. An EF-1 category tornado ripped through the city destroying several businesses, churches and homes. It cut a path right across the downtown area and continued through the city. Areas that were not directly in the tornado’s path saw damage by the powerful winds. It came early in the afternoon stretching about 4 miles before pulling back up. At its strongest winds reached up to 100 mph. It was certainly not what the city was expecting, but something that became a reality during the early part of the summer that year.
I recently traveled into the city of Portland. It has been about a year and a half since that storm. A lot has changed since that early summer storm. It looks like the city has landed back on its feet. From what I saw, there did not seem to be any evidence of what used to be. I saw a city that was filled with a lot of activity. I crossed paths with a few of the people from Portland and they were excited to point out to me the areas of interest within the city. This was not a city that stayed down from devastation. This was a city that had rebuilt and kept pushing forward. This is a city where everyone is excited about their community and proud of where they live.
The downtown shopping district seemed pretty busy on a Saturday morning when I stopped by. I parked my car and walked along the streets of the business district. There were signs of vacancy in some of the stores. At this point I could not say that this was in direct relation to what happened a couple years ago with the tornado. It seemed to be more of an ongoing issue with many small cities’ downtown districts. The economy in Michigan has improved over time, but several downtown businesses in the state’s smaller cities are struggling. On the other hand, I saw a couple shops and restaurants in Portland doing really well with several customers. This same area had several businesses damaged and there were really no strong signals of that damage as I walked through.
I continued driving through Portland stopping at several parks that were effected. I saw new playground equipment in a few of these parks. I saw evidence of art in one park near the downtown area that was a recent addition. This park was in the path of the tornado. If you never had knowledge of this storm, the thought of a tornado ravaging through the park would have crossed the mind. This park was the most obvious evidence of a city rebuilt and moving on. As I traveled out of the city I saw new businesses and more modern architecture. It was evident that an event bringing tragedy was not enough to hold this city down.
The city of Portland, Michigan is known as the City of Two Rivers. The Grand River runs through the city while the Looking Glass River intersects it. Portland is located about 15 miles east of Lansing. Within the city there are a few parks that link together through a riverwalk system that extends to both sides of the river, and has four different steel bridges crossing over the Grand River at some point. One of those bridges can be seen from the freeway of Interstate 96 heading toward Grand Rapids. I have seen it many times while driving on the freeway and always wanted to get a closer look. I drove out to Portland on a rather snowy day and was glad I got to experience the charm of this small city of Michigan.
I came in from Grand River Avenue and parked my car near Fabiano’s River House Bar and Grill and walked over a small bridge heading to Two Rivers Park. This small bridge stood over the Looking Glass River near the intersection of the Grand River. The park had a rather nice Veterans Memorial section. From this park you could walk along the Grand River to a bridge that crossed the Grand River to Water Street. Along the way were a couple of people getting in a winter jog. The bridge is one of four historical bridges within the city. This bridge is an old railroad bridge converted to a pedestrian bridge with steel beams rising over the concrete. I had the unique experience of seeing this bridge during the winter. The Grand River was flowing under slabs of ice that had been pushed together. It looked like there was an ice blockage within the river.
I got into my car and then drove toward the freeway. I headed onto Market Street taking it to the freeway overpass. There I saw the historic steel bridge that I had seen so many times on the freeway. I walked across the bridge. The other side of the bridge led to private property along the Grand River. The best photo opportunity came from the side along Market Street. The view from the bridge opposite of the freeway was pretty spectacular. The ice frozen on the Grand River was cut in certain places. The pattern that the ice created was rather interesting. You could see a small island further down the Grand River. During the summer and fall seasons, this would be a great scenic viewpoint.
I continued along Canal Street heading back toward Downtown Portland. The last bridge I stopped at was the historical Bridge Street Bridge (also known as Veteran’s Memorial Bridge). This bridge is a one way bridge leading right into Downtown Portland. Cars driving over this truss bridge drive on the metal grate deck of the bridge crossing over the Grand River. Within 100 feet from the exit of the bridge is Kent Street in the middle of Downtown Portland. I took a couple photos from the banks of the river, but the Grand River had frozen over a little bit onto the sidewalks near the bank areas. I did not want to fall through any ice, so I stayed at a safe distance. I ended up driving over the bridge which was not as scary as I thought it might be for a bridge with a grate deck.
The city of Portland does have one more bridge further down near the high school. I did not get a chance to go out and see it. All the bridges are connected together through the Riverwalk and it would be a great way to see the city. My visit came during the winter and it was beautiful out there. However, I would recommend taking a walk along this trail system during the spring, summer or fall seasons. It was quite cold out when I went and the snow at times made it hard to see the views from the bridges. In spite of the winter weather, I was glad that I spent some time in Portland.
It sounds like a place from the board game Candy Land. Candy Cane Lane is one of Kalamazoo’s Christmas highlights. It is located in Bronson Park in Downtown Kalamazoo and the city puts on a Christmas light display worth checking out. I ventured out a few years back on a the start of a snowy evening for Southwestern Michigan. I had always heard stories from my mom and Grandparents who were natives of Kalamazoo about Bronson Park, but never had a visual account of what they were talking about until I saw it for myself. I returned there once again with my wife and brother and it was still amazing.
The park is a rectangular park surrounded by churches, museums and government buildings in the heart of Downtown Kalamazoo. On each corner you enter the park through a tunnel of candy canes. It is an amazing walk as you go through this tunnel as candy canes lean up against each other from each side of the sidewalk to make this little tunnel. Light fixtures and trees all around are strung with lights and garland. As you walk into the park through this tunnel you get the feeling that you are walking into something magical. Once you pass through the tunnels of candy canes you are treated with a lighting display that is probably one of the best I have seen in any city park throughout the state. Lighted snowflakes stretch between the trees and there are a few lit up reindeer decorations placed strategically throughout the park. In one of the parks monument areas there are several large candles lit similar to that of a menorah. I was really impressed with this display because it provides something for everyone as we celebrate the holidays.
Further down the park near the concert pavilion is a nativity scene. The area is lit up with lights on the nativity scene. The figurines from the nativity scene have been put through the elements over time, but are still in pretty good shape. I have seen others that are much more battered and torn. In some ways the nativity scene seems a little out of its element; not due to the subject matter, but rather on account of the upkeep of all the other decorations and lights within the park. It is not a bad thing at all. In fact the nativity scene gives you a little bit of a throwback feel to decorations of old. I pictured my mom and grandparents having viewed this nativity scene several years before me. Viewing the nativity scene also gave me an added appreciation of the Christmas story.
If you are looking for a great way to spend the Christmas season, I would highly recommend Bronson Park in Kalamazoo as a stop. The park is near the shopping district within Downtown Kalamazoo. Traffic around the park can get a little difficult at times, but there are plenty of parking spots around the park. It is near the public library, civic theater, and institute of the arts, making the park a good location for visitors. I was really impressed by the Christmas lights and decorations through the whole park. It is rare to see a tree that was not lit with Christmas lights. Again, I would say this park is one of the most festive parks I have seen throughout the state. A walk down Candy Cane Lane will be a Christmas walk to remember.