Discover Your Community Day Explores Local History and Natural Resources
Photos courtesy of Fremont Area Community Foundation
A group representing a variety of local businesses and organizations gathered to learn more about Newaygo County’s history and natural resources at Discover Your Community Day on October 28.
The event was the third in a series presented by Fremont Area Community Foundation in partnership with the Fremont Area and River Country chambers of commerce.
The group was welcomed...
...by Mark Petz, Community Foundation special projects coordinator, at the Newaygo County Museum and Heritage Center in Newaygo.
“Our history and natural resources are at the heart of why so many of us live in Newaygo County,” said Petz.
Roxanne Bassett, the museum’s executive director, and Luanne Nelson, education coordinator, gave a brief overview of the history of the museum and county before inviting the group to look around. After exploring the exhibits, the group boarded a bus to Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary.
On the way, Mark Guzniczak of NCEDO and The Right Place shared highlights of Newaygo County tourism and attractions. He noted that approximately 335,000 visitors come to Newaygo County each year, drawn by local festivals, waterways, and other outdoor amenities.
At Loda Lake, Diane Walker and Pat Ruta-McGhan of the U.S. Forest Service talked about Newaygo County’s national forest areas and the sanctuary, which is home to nearly 1,000 different species.
“This is a place of discovery,” said botanist Ruta-McGhan. “Statewide, Newaygo County is a gem, from a biologist’s perspective.”
Attendees were given time to explore and then met back under the pavilion to hear more about local trails. Scott Faulkner of the River Country Chamber and Newaygo Nationals gave attendees a sneak peek at “The Dragon,” the proposed 48-mile trail around Hardy Pond. Charles Chandler also talked about the North Country Trail, sharing that the Newaygo County section is right in the middle of the 4,600-mile trail stretching from North Dakota to New York.
After a home-style lunch at Merrill Township Hall, attendees were treated to stories of the history of Woodland Park and Idlewild by Virginia Proctor and her daughter Victoria Proctor-Gibbs.
Both areas were popular tourist destinations among African Americans from the 1920s through the 1960s. Woodland Park drew families looking for a quiet community and outdoor activities. Idlewild was vibrant, fun-loving, and known for its nightlife, according to Proctor-Gibbs. Artists like Duke Ellington, Etta James, and B.B. King all came to perform.
“In other places, these performers couldn’t stay in the hotels where they performed,” said Proctor-Gibbs. “People didn’t have to come through the back door here.”
“This was really a haven for people,” said Proctor. “As a child here, I met people from all over the country.”
Another highlight of the day was a tour of Hardy Dam led by Rich Houtteman and William Schoenlein of Consumers Energy. After returning to the bus, attendees finished the day by learning more about local water quality and the Muskegon River from Julie Chamberlain of the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly.
The group of attendees included newcomers and longtime residents interested in learning more about the area.
“I have familiarity with a lot of local agencies but I wasn’t as familiar with many in the natural resources sector,” said Karen Clark of the Newaygo County Great Start Collaborative. “I’m looking forward to taking advantage of our hiking trails now, and it has reemphasized to me that Newaygo County really is a beautiful place to live.”
Discover Your Community Days were developed with support from local chambers of commerce and alumni of the Leadership in Newaygo County (LINC) program. The events were designed to give community leaders a broader base of knowledge of Newaygo County, an opportunity to network, and a better sense of area resources and how to get involved. Future events will concentrate on health, arts, and culture.