On a brisk spring afternoon, the sonic drumming of a downy woodpecker ricochets over Brecon Park, a six-acre gem sequestered in the southwestern part of the Rolling Meadows neighborhood in Saline.
Jason Shields, who lives in a neat brick bungalow just a “stone’s throw” away, strolls the park pathways, something he does regularly as a member of the Saline Parks Commission to check for anything amiss.
Elected chair of the commission this year, the forty-two-year-old Shields and his family spend a lot of time in the park, an important anchor for their neighborhood with its playground, pathways, baseball field, basketball court, and rolling open spaces where families gather.
“It’s being used a lot,” he says. “On sunny days, you’ll see a lot of people out here.”
Shields and his wife, Christie, forty, and two young children live on a nearby cul-de-sac. They appreciate their neighborhood for its proximity to Brecon Park and the amenities of downtown Saline, but also for the folks who live on their street of 1960s-era homes. Among the eleven houses there is a broad demographic mix—from newlyweds to families with school-age children to older generations.
As in many communities, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic upended work, school, and family lives. It was no different for the Shieldses, both of whom work for Ann Arbor–based NSF International. They both still work from home, with Jason soon to return to the office. Their son, five-year-old Braden, is in child care, while nine-year-old Maura attends Woodland Meadows Elementary.
Despite the challenges, Jason said they were able to maintain a “sense of community,” helping neighbors out by making and delivering dinners when needed, hauling garbage cans out for pickup, or snowblowing driveways and sidewalks. If somebody was headed to the local grocery, calls would go out from one neighbor to the next asking if they needed anything.
As the pandemic dragged on, one neighbor organized cul-de-sac pizza parties. Another continued her four-decade tradition of holding a pumpkin-carving contest at Halloween so trick-or-treaters can judge the best pumpkin.
“We have a firepit in our backyard,” Jason says, “and so I say [to neighbors], if the firepit’s on, come hang out and stop on by.”
It’s an easy half-mile walk from their house to downtown, where they enjoy eating at restaurants, buying produce at the Farmers Market, watching holiday parades, or catching live music at various festivals.
Christie, a University of Michigan graduate from Troy, bought their home in 2007. Jason, a Davison native who graduated from Oakland University, sold his condo in Walled Lake and joined her when they married in 2009.
Six years ago, Jason was recruited by a former work friend to serve on the parks commission. He is glad he stepped up.
“I’ve stayed there because we do try to give back to the community,” he says, “and this is one way that we can do that.”
The commission also oversees the city’s nonmotorized trails, and the Shields family enjoys those, too. “That’s why we like it around here,” he says, “because you can connect to so many different sidewalks and paths.”