I love trees! I love walking in the woods! I love following a path to discover some new fun spot in nature. I also love interacting with families from other cultures who have come to live in our West Michigan communities.
Bringing these two passions together means frequent invitations to families to go hiking with us! We pack snacks and head out on adventures. Some of these folks would not easily find their way to our fabulous county park system. Some have come from war torn parts of the world, forced from their homes and land against their will. I remember the first time an older gentleman said, “This is like my former home country”. It was a healing moment for him to discover trees and forests close by in his new homeland. That extended family now regularly shares pictures of themselves overlooking Lake Michigan after hiking out the Rosy Mound trail!
For many years I have been bringing gaggles of children to the monthly Children’s Nature Programs to the Nature Education Center at Hemlock Crossing. When one group ages out, I find new little ones to bring along. The quality of programming is so worth the effort. The kid-friendly lessons are followed by treks to dip for tad poles or insects, make like a squirrel hunting for nuts, create a nest like an eagle’s nest, dissect owl pellets…and then the programs finish up with the most creative craft projects to reinforce all the children have learned!
I am thankful for the financial gifts and funding that allows our Ottawa County Parks to offer regular, no-cost programs that reach those who are not able to participate in fee-based programs. These gifts put into action the Foundation’s mission of bridging community to nature, and most important, gifts provide opportunities for these children to grow up knowing there are great parks and natural areas all over our county! Hopefully many of them will be park goers and even park supporters in the decades to come.
My husband, Steve, and I are committed to supporting Ottawa County Parks because we appreciate the quality of life the local parks bring to our community and believe in the Parks’ initiative, Parks for All. The treasure of open lands, wonderful, developed facilities, and high-quality inclusive programming, available for ALL to enjoy, is part of what makes West Michigan a beautiful place to live!
Featured Plant: Virginia Bluebells
by Bobbi Jones Sabine
Nothing says “May!” like our beautiful Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica). When they first break ground, in mid-April, the leaves are a rich dark purple, fading to green as the plant grows. By Mother’s Day, the pink buds open to vivid blue flowers, bringing joy to the eye and to many early pollinators. Occasionally, flowers may be white or pink. By early summer, all traces of the plant are gone, not to reappear until the following year.
Bluebells are fairly easy to grow and can spread readily in gardens, which I will attest to, having dug up and shared many bulbs with friends and admiring passers-by. However, they are actually listed as Endangered in Michigan, when naturally occurring and not planted. Naturally occurring bluebell communities are surprisingly rare, only known to occur in eight counties in lower Michigan and one county in the U.P. There is also a northern species (Mertensia paniculata) in the western U.P.
Most communities occur along the floodplains of streams and rivers. Where they choose to grow, they can be very abundant. One of the largest natural communities of bluebells in the state occurs right here in Ottawa County, in the floodplain of the Grand River, at Eastmanville Bayou County Park. Hike to the eastern part of the park, and be prepared for a breathtaking sea of blue. Best time to view is early May.
Native Americans used it in their treatment of whooping cough and tuberculosis, and employed its roots as a treatment for venereal disease and as an antidote for poisons. The leaves are reported to be edible but not particularly tasty.
The Stewardship Circle is our lead group of donors making an annual investment of $250 or more to help maintain and enhance our park system.
Featured Park: Grose Park
22200 24th Ave.
Casnovia, MI 49318
Overlooking Crockery Lake from a bluff amid towering trees, this 40 acre park provides a variety of recreational opportunities for the entire family including swimming, fishing, sand volleyball and picnicking. About one mile of hiking trails along a creek and through the woods offers abundant spring wildflowers from mid-April through May.