As another Michigan summer approaches, many are excited to spend time outdoors or plan vacations. While there might be some wanderlust to shake off those winter months, mid-Michigan residents have a wealth of activity right in their very own backyard. From the Potter Park Zoo to a fervor of activity at Cooley Law School Stadium, Lansing isn’t a departure point — it’s a destination.
Lansing Lugnuts and Lansing Ignite President Nick Grueser is about to have his busiest year yet. Part of the Lugnuts organization since 2001, Grueser is now at the helm of an exciting new era.
“The cool thing is, with everything we’re doing at the stadium, we’re anticipating to have 300-350 events this year,” Grueser said. “There are very few weekend dates that there isn’t something going on downtown.”
With two sports teams’ seasons and several other events in the rotation, including Beerfest at the Ballpark and Holiday Lights, Cooley Law School Stadium is poised to become even more of a hub for activity in downtown Lansing this year. In addition, Grueser said recent renovations of the outfield complex and a 360-degree concourse have helped to optimize the fan experience and increase opportunities for using the stadium year-round.
“We use The View for Lugnuts events, and we’re using it 365 days a year for business meetings, events and social gatherings. It started the conversation about utilizing the stadium outside of game day,” said Grueser.
In renegotiating its lease with the city of Lansing, the Lugnuts organization now has full control of the stadium throughout the year, opening further entertainment possibilities. Grueser understands and embraces the idea that Cooley Law School Stadium can be an attraction for people of all ages — even those who aren’t into sports.
“A lot of the reason people enjoy coming to our events is that it’s not just about baseball,” he said. “For us, it’s about the entertainment. We try to be creative and unique with the things we’re doing. We’re trying to find a fit for everyone, whether you’re a baseball fan or not.”
In addition to providing a fun fan experience, the Lugnuts organization’s main goal is offering affordable family entertainment throughout the year.
“We want to make sure the community has accessibility into the stadium with a regular basis,” Grueser said.
With its inaugural season, one of the objectives for the Lansing Ignite team is to be ingrained within the local community. Because a soccer schedule is more accommodating than baseball, Grueser hopes to have Ignite players participate in events with corporate partners and volunteer to work with children’s soccer teams. One thing not to expect is a mascot buddy for Big Lug.
“We’re intentionally not having a mascot, because we want our players and coaches to be the faces of the organization,” Grueser said.
Cooley Law School Stadium is one of many points of interest for the community to enjoy spending time in Lansing. The Potter Park Zoo, nestled along the Red Cedar River, is another local gem with fun and affordable offerings for families year-round. The zoo has been an institution for nearly a century – it will be celebrating its centennial in 2020.
“The zoo really is a community resource,” said Amy Morris, executive director of the Potter Park Zoological Society. “It gives a different dimension to the city of Lansing. Being that we are in an urban area, we provide an opportunity for the visitors to experience nature in a way that they might never have had before.”
Morris said guests of the zoo often combine their visit with Lugnuts games or tours of the Capitol.
“We feel that we’re a complement to all of the other great resources in Lansing,” she said.
With over 160 species of animals and special events held throughout the year, Potter Park Zoo is a staple of any family’s Lansing itinerary. Popular seasonal events include Wine & Stein, Boo at the Zoo, and Wonderland of Lights. According to zoo Director Cynthia Wagner, one of the zoo’s main objectives is to become more inclusive and accessible to its guests.
“We are becoming certified to be sensory-friendly,” she said. “That includes the physical facility (itself) and staff completing a training to make sure everyone knows how to accommodate guests with sensory needs.”
The zoo’s monthly FALCONERS program is designed for special-needs families to experience Potter Park Zoo in a way that is both unique to them and sensory-appropriate. They are currently fundraising to repair pathways and upgrade the farmyard exhibit to make them more accessible.
In addition to being a safe and affordable place for families to visit, Potter Park Zoo’s mission of “inspiring conservation of animals and the natural world” is met through its variety of programming. In 2018, the zoo provided more than 200 on-site education programs and completed 130 different outreach programs in the community, reaching thousands of people.
If spending time at the ballpark or among the animals is still not enough time outdoors, the Lansing community can experience local waterways with River Town Adventures. Established in 2014, the company offers canoe and kayak rentals along with adventure packages to help residents and visitors see Lansing from the Grand River and the Red Cedar. Its season typically runs from May to early October. The business will be operating from a kiosk along the river trail outside the Lansing City Market this year.
River Town Adventures co-owner Paul Brogan grew up in the Lansing area. He said his mission is to not only provide recreational options for the capital city, but also create learning moments about urban rivers and conservation.
“Growing up in this town, I always heard there’s nothing fun to do in Lansing,” Brogan said. “I think we’re trying to answer that puzzle in providing new fun and activity. You see a mix between the urban and nature. It’s rewarding when people come back and are shocked by their experience.”
River Town Adventures hosts several local events, including Movies on the River and Oars & Ales, thanks to partnerships with the Lansing Public Media Center, Lansing Center and Lansing Brewing Co. The most popular offering is Light the River on the Fourth of July.
“We put LED lights on all of our kayaks and we flood the river downtown with them,” Brogan said. “It’s really caught on, and a unique way to experience the holiday.”
The abundance of activity in the Lansing area is within reach for visitors beyond Michigan thanks to the Capital Region International Airport. The airport serves as a gateway for the comings and goings in mid-Michigan, and CEO Wayne Sieloff calls it a critical regional asset.
“Each day, the airport welcomes many visitors whose destination is somewhere in our region,” said Sieloff. “There is a renewed energy surrounding the Lansing region. Having the mix of attractions makes Lansing a destination that can be visited time and time again.”
In addition to serving visitors, the airport elevates the quality of life for residents and the growth of the Lansing area.
“As a region with an international airport, we are able to provide connection to the rest of the world – something that is critical to those who are making the decision to live, work and play here,” Sieloff said.
With all of the recreational and entertaining options around town, it’s sure to be an exciting year for the city of Lansing. For Grueser, the more opportunities to bring people to the capital city, the better.
“The city is continuing to grow,” he said. “I think the more that can happen downtown, the better it is for our community.”