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Chikaming Open Lands looks to establish preserve in memory of Chris Thompson

Posted on August 10, 2018

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SAWYER — Chikaming Open Lands (COL) is seeking to acquire a new nature preserve in Chikaming Township, to be dedicated in memory of the organization’s late executive director, Chris Thompson.

Located on Warren Woods Road between Warren Woods State Park and Chikaming Township Park and Preserve, the 49-acre property features large swaths of open fields, woodland, and frontage on the Galien River. Upon acquiring the land, COL will manage it as a nature preserve open to the public for outdoor recreation.

The conservation organization’s immediate plans for the property include developing a trail system, improving public access, and restoring the open fields to prairie. COL will also explore the possibility of offering access to the Galien River in the future.

The property holds significant ecological value due in large part to its proximity to the river. The forested areas along the river provide benefits to wildlife, including migratory songbirds (Audubon has designated the Galien River corridor from Lake Michigan to New Troy as an “Important Bird Area”). Protecting upland and wetlands along the river also improves water quality in the Galien, and ultimately, in Lake Michigan.

Chris Thompson, COL’s previous executive director, passed away suddenly on June 3, 2016. Shortly thereafter, COL’s Board of Directors resolved to proactively seek out a property that the organization would acquire and protect as a nature preserve in Thompson’s memory. After receiving input from local municipalities, park boards and community members, COL developed a set of criteria for evaluating potential properties for acquisition. The top two requirements were that the land be ecologically significant, and that it be open and accessible for the community to enjoy.

“Chris felt strongly that Chikaming Open Lands’ natural areas should be welcoming and available for everyone in our community to experience the outdoors,” says current Executive Director Ryan Postema. “His philosophy was that conservation really begins and ends with  people—making their lives better by enriching the places where they live, work and visit.”

Acquisition of the property requires an investment of $555,000. COL has committed one-third of that cost, using funds previously received from The Pokagon Fund for ongoing land acquisition. To secure the remaining funds, COL is seeking grants from foundations and organizations as well as individual donations. To date, more than half of the required funding has been procured. The full amount must be raised by Sept. 30.

“I was president of the Board when we hired Chris as executive director more than seven years ago, and had a relationship with him not just as an employee, but also as a friend,” said COL founder and former board member Steve Smith. “His focus was not just making COL a better land trust, but also to make this community in Southwest Michigan a better place to live. I truly believe that the acquisition of this property will carry on his legacy by allowing COL to create a welcoming place where residents and visitors alike can enjoy the beautiful natural landscapes that make this area so special.”

Individuals interested in contributing to the project may contact the COL offices at (269) 405-1006. Online donations may be made at www.chikamingopenlands.org/ctmp. Postema is also offering guided walks of the property. Interested parties may contact COL to inquire about available dates.