Major backyard renovation – need advice on what to do

Zone 6a, MI. Budget is fairly open, but mainly looking to DIY it all and am willing to do so. Novice/intermediate landscaper, but willing to also research and learn. Previous owners barely did anything to the landscaping and inside, which turned out to be my benefit as they have so far been easy fixes that drastically improved the house. Looking to clean up the outside now though.

My main goal is to level everything out to grass and have a big open yard for the dogs. Here are some things I am planning and things I am running in to.

  • After pool removal I am left with this pile of sand (about 8"+ deep). Planned on posting it as free sand and bagging it for them so that I can leave it out front on a case by case basis (unless they want a lot of it). As I don't really care for ~20 people coming into the back of my yard randomly.
  • Looking to remove the raised deck as it serves no purpose. Will replace the entire deck in a year or two, but looking to do some of it sooner than later. Currently the posts are on post piers that you can see (pretty sure this isn't done right), so it shouldn't require much digging to remove the deck (or breaking of concrete). Then will replace the missing area with stairs (possibly a corner staircase).
  • Not sure what to do about the red patio stone landing though. It wasn't properly put in place so now weeds are coming through.
  • A lot of pea gravel is underneath the deck, not sure what to do with that yet.
  • Two flower beds next to the deck that I think I am going to remove the small retaining wall and redo that.
  • There is an area of grass that has some pea gravel and looks like it used to hold a kids play area. The soil is very hard around this area, and instead of loosening this and turning it into grass I am thinking about making two raised garden beds (8'x4'?) in this area and filling the spaces around it with the pea gravel from underneath the deck. Not sure how hard it would be to keep this pea gravel somewhat clean though as I do want it to look good.
  • The black platform is what is leftover from a shed in the back corner. Looking to remove this, it doesn't appear to be cemented in or anything, just concrete blocks underneath of it with some framing.
  • After all of this is removed, I am restoring the trees (you can see a before/after of two different trees in pic 2 compared to pic 3 in the background).

Obviously this is a lot of work. I do enjoy this type of thing, but I am not really good at the designing portion of it. I am looking for something simple, but wonder what everyone's thoughts are on my plan (i.e. the raised garden bed idea, corner stair idea etc) and if anyone can warn me of any pitfalls.

The lawn is also full of weeds and will need to be reseeded. I believe I need to wait until the Fall for this, but if you have any advice on this part please feel free to comment on it.

Pics

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