The Grand River Greenway Campaign, a fundraising effort launched in 2017 with a goal of financing key land acquisitions along the 36.5-mile Idema Explorers Trail, recently achieved its fundraising goal of $7.2 million.
The target is deemed critical in leveraging public funding as part of the $21 million Grand River Greenway project. The Grand River Greenway project will ultimately establish a public land corridor connecting Grand Haven to the border with Kent County.
The Greenway project is currently ongoing, with over 20 miles of trail in various stages of active design and permitting. It’s possible three segments of trail could be under construction in 2022, which would include over 4.5 miles of new trail construction.
“I am so grateful to be a part of this campaign and community that has supported raising over $7 million,” said Samantha Verplank, campaign co-chair. “This funding will have a tremendous impact creating and preserving green space for future generations in West Michigan.”
Monica Verplank, another campaign co-chair, spoke at the dedication event for another trail section.
“Earlier this summer, it was wonderful to participate in the dedication of the expanded Bend Area and the opening of the Georgetown segment of the Idema Explorers Trail,” she said. “While it has been great to see these new spaces open for public use and for the community to have bicycle/pedestrian access, the exciting thing is that this is really just the beginning.”
The campaign wraps up just as Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg prepares to depart his role to become the Kent County administrator. Vanderberg served on the campaign committee and was instrumental in recruiting committee members, including campaign co-chair and donor Peter Secchia, who died last year at age 83.
“I recall with great fondness those early discussions with Peter regarding this project,” said Vanderberg, who had a long working relationship with Secchia dating back to the beginnings of the Millennium Park project on the Grand River in Kent County. “Peter was a visionary and this vision of the Greenway grabbed him. One of the amazing things about Peter was his ability to take a vision and make it a reality. I am thrilled that we are now one step closer and look forward to seeing various critical Grand River projects develop and connect across West Michigan.”
Another key milestone in the campaign was a gift from the Bill and Bea Idema Foundation, a contribution that resulted in the Greenway trail being named in honor of Bea Idema, who has a deep family connection to the river in Ottawa County.
“The support of the Idema family has been and continues to be so critical to the success of the Grand River Greenway,” said Kelly Rice, Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission president. “A place like Grand Ravines, a highlight of the Greenway, has been transformed and became a community destination with their help.”
While fundraising efforts were slowed by the pandemic, several other gifts helped the campaign achieve its final goal, including major gifts from John and Jim Zevalkink, the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, through the Greatest Needs Fund, and others.
The Grand River Greenway Campaign was an initiative of the Ottawa County Parks Foundation, which was formed in 2016 with a mission of “bridging community to nature.”
“This funding really has opened new possibilities for the parks and demonstrates how we can help connect community to the abundant natural spaces within Ottawa County,” said Bobbi Jones Sabine, Parks Foundation president. “However, this really required a tireless effort by so many. I would like to acknowledge the dedication of this campaign committee.”
Other campaign committee members include Myron Aldrink, Dr. Barb Brown, Wendy Creason, Tina Dee, Andy DeVries, Thomas Haas, Tom Jackoboice, Mark Schmidt and Timothy Stoepker. Tom Werkman was formerly on the campaign. Ottawa County Parks Director Jason Shamblin, as well as his predecessor, John Scholtz, both served on the campaign committee.
“This is the culmination of 40 years of effort and has built on the vision and work of so many. This achievement will really have a lasting impact on the community for generations,” Shamblin said. “We are striving to have a celebration at our next trail segment dedication — which we hope will be in 2022.
“While much has been accomplished, considerable work still needs to be done. However, the Greenway Campaign has put us in a position to be successful. As work continues, there are many additional ways for the community to support the Greenway. Additional naming opportunities exist along the many features and segments of the Idema Explorers Trail, as well as other ways for supporters to make an impact.”
People can visit ottawacountyparksfoundation.org if they would like to learn more or donate.