Text: R. Collins
Work-from-home blues may just be beaten this summer thanks to a savvy new addition to Grand Rapids area parks this spring. As of March 2021, 10 green spaces in the city’s abounding parks system have integrated free Wi-Fi service thanks to a pilot program called Network in a Box, or NIB, which is supported by funding from the CARES Act. The program aims to bridge a digital divide that was widened in Grand Rapids during the COVID-19 pandemic by way of offering year-round, outdoor internet access.
“This pilot program is an important step toward ensuring a more connected community in a way that’s free and accessible to residents across our city,” said David Marquardt, director of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, in a press release. “Park visitors can now work, learn, and communicate with others while also enjoying the natural beauty of Grand Rapids.”
Those who have already enjoyed Grand Rapids park system are familiar with the many possibilities it offers for spending quality time solo or with friends and family. Many parks boast playgrounds, sport courts, picnic areas and grills, water features, and open space for activities like frisbee and disc golf, not to mention many are located near the Grand River’s many walkable riverside pathways. Across Grand Rapids parks, it’s common to find amateur photographers utilizing serene natural backdrops and groups of friends arriving via the city’s rentable, app-controlled Spin scooters for an afternoon picnic.
It’s best to take advantage of the park system’s newest feature, as the NIB program is currently funded through December. At the end of its term, the city will review community usage and support as well as funding availability to determine whether to continue the program.
For now, parks used most heavily, and which already have community infrastructure like gyms and pavilions, are utilizing the NIB devices. These include: Ah-Nab-Awen Park, Fish Ladder Park, and Richmond Park along the river and West Side neighborhoods; Belknap Park, Briggs Park, and Riverside Park to the north; and Roosevelt Park, Martin Luther King park, Garfield Park, and MacKay-Jaycees Park in the Madison and Garfield Park areas.
The NIB hotspots have a range of approximately 900 feet and can support between 30 and 50 devices at one time depending on usage. Content access is also filtered using the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, guidelines, according to City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. To connect, users just need to select the network when within range of the NIB; no login is required.
List of Parks
Ah-Nab-Awen Park | 220 Front Ave. NW
Belknap Park | 30 Coldbrook St. NE
Briggs Park | 350 Knapp St. NE
Fish Ladder Park | 606 Front Ave. NW
Garfield Park | 2111 Madison Ave. SE
MacKay-Jaycees Park | 2531 Kalamazoo Ave. SE
Martin Luther King Park | 900 Fuller Ave. SE
Richmond Park | 1101 Richmond St. NW
Riverside Park | 2001 Monroe Ave. NE
Roosevelt Park | 739 Van Raalte Dr. SW