Motor City Grounds Crew Keeps the Water Flowing at Williams Park Splash Pad

Detroit nonprofit Motor City Grounds Crew helps keep adopted city parks in working order.

About a dozen kids are playing on a playscape at Williams Park on Detroit’s west side. It’s hot. Adults are enjoying the shade under the pavilion. Nearby, a splash pad sits vacant and dry.

On a typical day, you’d be hearing the sound of kids splashing and laughing in the spray. But today, all is quiet.

Nina Ignaczak

Aaron Smith, the executive director of the nonprofit group Motor City Grounds Crew, is here to check up on the park using WDET’s Parks Watch app. The nonprofit group was founded in 2012 with financial support from the Lear Corporation. Its mission is Improving and maintaining parks across the city of Detroit.

“Ordinarily on a day like today when it’s warmer, there will be a number of kids on the splash pad,” says Smith. “There would be tens and tens of children and their parents or guardians out on the splash pad and enjoying that today. However… the splash pad is not on today.”

And now Smith has to figure out why.

Nina Ignaczak

For years, the 8.5-acre Williams Park, like many of the homes and businesses in the surrounding neighborhood, has suffered from neglect and disrepair.

But that changed in 2013, when Motor City Grounds Crew adopted this park. Smith says the group added walking trails, a pavilion and the splash pad.

The group also committed to cleaning and mowing every seven to 10 days, and making sure the equipment is in working order.

Smith notices the automatic switch that should have turned the water on this morning is not functioning.  So he jumps on his cell. Soon, another man shows up. And suddenly, the water is flowing.

A small boy with a wide grin emerges from the splash pad. His shorts and t-shirt are sopping wet. He’s nine years old, and says he likes to come to this park often to play with his friends. He says he was mad when he got here this morning, and saw the water wasn’t working. But now he’s happy.

Smith got the water flowing again by calling local neighborhood resident James Coston.

Nina Ignaczak

“I called him said ‘James, the splash pad water’s not on… what’s going on?’,” says Smith. “James has a key to the pump house, so he serves as a custodian to the pump house. He got the water going.”

Smith says Motor City Grounds Crew has what he calls a “local deputy” like Coston in every neighborhood for each of the seven parks it has adopted.

Coston makes sure the grass gets cut, the trash is picked up, and the equipment works.

And today, he’s on hand to make things right when they go wrong.

Next, Smith will report this problem to the City of Detroit’s Improve Detroit app so that city workers can come by to repair the broken automatic switch.

But until then, because of Motor City Grounds Crew, these kids Williams Park know the water will keep on flowing.

Nina Ignaczak

Tell us what’s happening at your park this summer using WDET’s Parks Watch App. Find out more at And check out what other people have been finding in the parks in the map below.



  • Nina Ignaczak
    Nina Ignaczak is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker in Metro Detroit. She is the founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit, a digital media startup that tells Detroit’s environmental stories while building a community of engaged readers who are informed and empowered to act personally and publicly. She is also a former digital editor at WDET.