Peter Secchia said the Grand River Explorers Trail will connect Lake Michigan and Millennium Park in Grand Rapids. Photo by Michael Buck
In a few short years, West Michigan residents and visitors will be able to bike from Grand Haven to Grand Rapids making pit stops at parks and swim spots along the way.
The Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission is entering the final stage of a $41-million project it started decades ago.
Approximately $20 million in public funding already has been invested in the Grand River Greenway, an effort to connect parks and open space lands along the Grand River.
John Scholtz, director of the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission, said the project kicked off in 1996, when Ottawa County Parks began acquiring land to establish the greenway, following voter approval of a parks millage in support of the project.
“Our vision is to acquire the key natural and recreational lands along the river corridor and link them with the Grand River Explorers Trail,” Scholtz said.
The Grand River Explorers Trail is the crown jewel of the project. Once completed, it will span 30 miles and connect 8,500 acres of public land, providing links to Grand Rapids, Grandville, Jenison, Grand Valley State University’s campuses and the lakeshore in Grand Haven.
It also will integrate into West Michigan’s regional trail network, with connections to nine regional trails, including the new M-231 Grand River Bridge.
Purchased property thus far for the Grand River Greenway includes more than 2,400 acres and 13 miles of river shoreline.
An additional 1,000 acres of land remains to be purchased to complete the project and Explorers Trail.
This summer, the Ottawa County Parks Foundation plans to kick off a fundraising campaign to raise at least $7.2 million for the final leg of the project.
Scholtz said the other $14 million will come from the park’s millage, anticipated grant funding and other sources that already have been secured.
“We need about $7.2 million to make this work, and the rest can be made up with the other funding sources,” he said.
To help ensure the $7.2 million in donations is raised, the Ottawa County Parks Foundation enlisted the help of philanthropists Peter Secchia, Monica Verplank and Samantha Verplank as co-chairs of the Grand River Greenway Campaign.
Secchia, who is a Grand Rapids resident but owns a home on Lake Michigan, has a long history of supporting outdoor recreation projects. He was and continues to be a key force and supporter behind Millennium Park in Grand Rapids.
“I worked on Millennium Park from Day 1 and Dollar 1,” Secchia said. “I have a strong belief in trails.”
Secchia said he was the one who negotiated with Fred Meijer for the 6.5-mile Fred Meijer Trail in Millennium Park, an accomplishment of which he is especially proud.
Secchia said he hears from Kent County residents regularly telling him how much they appreciate Millennium Park, and he is looking forward to helping Ottawa County establish the Grand River Explorers Trail.
The Explorers Trail will connect to Millennium Park once completed.
“I’m driven by my ability to communicate with people who have means and explain to them the value of having a family trail that they can take from Lake Michigan to Millennium Park,” Secchia said. “It’s important to the people of Ottawa and Kent counties.”
The Grand River Greenway Campaign is seeking lead gifts currently and plans to announce those gifts later this summer.
Another key force behind the Grand River Explorers Trail is Myron Aldrink, who sits on the fundraising committee for the project.
After his Uncle Calvin (Cal) Aldrink passed away, Myron Aldrink ensured the deal his uncle had made with Ottawa County for the land that is now Grand Ravines Park, on 42nd Avenue and Fillmore Street, was completed, as well as organizing additional donations for the park.
Located near Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus, Grand Ravines Park is one of the parks that will be connected along the Grand River Explorers Trail.
The 187-acre park with 2,640 feet of Grand River frontage boosts hiking trails, fishing areas, a 21-acre enclosed dog park and a renovated historical barn and Grand Ravines Lodge. It also recently received a $350,000 donation from Beatrice Aldrink Idema for a suspension bridge connecting the north and south areas of the park.
“Ottawa has done a great job with that park, and I’m happy to be involved,” Aldrink said.
Aldrink said the project has major implications for West Michigan.
Besides the environmental, historical and recreational benefits it will offer, the Grand River Greenway and the Explorers Trail will make West Michigan attractive to outsiders and help keep talent in the area.
“When I was growing up living in Grand Rapids, I couldn’t wait to get out of here and go to Chicago, but as I’m getting older, it’s (become) a pretty cool area,” he said.
He said now, not only does he think West Michigan is a great place to live, his kids also are considering staying in the area instead of departing to California.
Scholtz agrees the project will be a boon for the area for years to come.
“People are moving to the area because they are attracted to the state and county parks and to the recreational amenities we have here,” he said. “I have no doubt if we can link these parks, it will make a difference in recruiting and retention. There’s a quality of life benefit.”
Scholtz said the plan is for the Grand River Greenway and Explorers Trail to be completed within the next five years. He said the parks millage, which was reapproved by voters in 2016 for 2018-28, will support the trail maintenance.
Work on the project is ongoing and construction of a 3.9-mile paved segment along the north side of North Cedar Drive, connecting Connor Bayou to Riverside Park, started this spring. The path serves as the southern connection to the new M-231 bridge non-motorized trail crossing.