To say that Kent County’s Millennium Park is connected to Lake Michigan might be considered a stretch of imagination or fantasy, or require proofs of the Grand River’s meandering path to the mouth of the Big Lake. But to say one can bike or walk a pathway along the Grand to get to one of the Great Lakes would just sound crazy. Unless you’re Peter Secchia.
Secchia, who “worked on Millennium Park from Day 1 and Dollar 1,” is a Grand Rapids resident who also owns a home on Lake Michigan in Ottawa County. He has managed to connect neighbors and friends and two large county parks departments with private sector philanthropists, creating a partnership that transcends the region, not just Grand Rapids. The Grand River Greenway connects parks and open space lands along the Grand River. The Grand River Explorers Trail, the project’s crown jewel, is a 30-mile connection to 8,500 acres of public land along the river corridor from the Big Lake to Millennium Park.
The trail-way system offers public access to fishing, swimming, park and picnic areas, hiking areas, boat docks and immense resources for education, preservation and green space benefitting most especially Kent and Ottawa counties — and all the communities along its meandering path. Its economic impact will reach well beyond the $41 million invested, especially if one considers retention and recruitment of employees and employers. The project also will stimulate further growth of these West Michigan communities and new developments in all.
Ottawa County has been invested in the Grand River Greenway since 1996 and assisted by the commitment and recommitment in 2016 of residents to a parks millage providing resources. Constructing the final leg of the Explorers Trail is within five years and $7.2 million in additional fundraising. Secchia, Myron Aldrink, a key force for the plan in Ottawa County, Beatrice Aldrink Idema and the Verplank family expect to announce lead gifts this summer.
John Scholtz, director of the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission, noted in the Business Journal report, “People are moving to the area because they are attracted to the state and county parks and to the recreational amenities we have here. 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.”
Indeed, there is no doubt of that.