By Tim McGrath
“Why would anyone actually want to spend a weekend sitting in the dirt?” – Anonymous (But you know who you are…)
Camping was a part of life growing up. Our family wandered from Ludington State Park to the National Forest campgrounds secreted across the UP and many points in between. Those were the golden days of childhood spent fishing, swimming, bike riding, and sneaking Dad’s cigars. We cooked up our own ridiculous versions of outdoor games, some of which involved trying not to get skewered with the newly acquired Jarts. There were hobo dinners enjoyed around the campfire, while Dad plucked out old timey country ballads on his battered Gretsch. Sadly, those days ended with graduations, colleges, jobs, and other responsible adult things.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of those long-ago campfires, though, we had the good sense to resurrect camping when our own kids came along. The best news is we found other friends who decided to also begin this tradition with their families. The stage was now set for new adventures in the great outdoors.
For those who’ve camped with kids, it’s always a hoot to watch how their creative juices begin to flow when they finally realize there’s no TV, internet, or impossibly boring adult-oriented stuff they have to do. It’s infinitely entertaining to watch and listen as group-think-kid-style comes to life and the crazy ideas start to bubble up and unfold. Mind you, the adults in question had one eye (and ear) on the shenanigans unfolding, but as long as there wasn’t an overabundance of blood, vomiting, or serious injury involved, the kids could get on fine by themselves.
“Hey, Uncle Tim. Want to watch us try and catch Beach Chickens?” Joel and Karl asked one sultry August afternoon.
“Beach Chickens? OK, now I need to know. What in the heck are Beach Chickens, and how do you catch them?” I innocently asked. Knowing grins, looks, and winks from the boys.
“Come on, follow us to the beach, we’ll show you. You’re going to love this.” Joel said. Carefully scanning the campsite to see if their mom was watching, they popped into the camper and returned with what they called “The Stuff”: a large bed sheet and half-eaten bag of Cheetos.
“That’s it?” I asked. I almost asked if they’d cleared the bed sheet idea with their mom, but decided against it. I was now in on the scheme, and to even consider squealing on them would be heresy.
“Yup, that’s it. Are you ready?” They were getting impatient with my piffling around.
“OK, you two get in the van, and I’ll let the others know we’re going to the beach for a while,” I said.
Muskegon State Park beach was hopping this scorching August afternoon. Families encamped in little huddles close to the water, young guys with no shirts tossing footballs hoping to catch the eye of one of the bikini-clad girls, kite fliers, little kids with droopy water-logged diapers building drip castles next to the water, crying when a rogue wave obliterated their creations. And, everywhere were the flocks of gulls, some floating effortlessly in the breeze, some screeching their irritation at one another, some picking up garbage from the beach for a light afternoon snack. Suddenly, a little light went on.
“Gulls are Beach Chickens, right?” I said to the boys. “And you two are going to try and catch one.” Duh.
“We are. Almost got one yesterday, but just missed it. Hey, there’s a spot over there by the dune, nobody’s there. Come on, let’s go!” They raced to the perfect place, and immediately set to work. I gathered all my responsible-dad-beach-gear and waded across the volcanic sand toward them. As soon as I came within about 25 yards of the project they immediately stopped, held up a hand, and motioned for me to stay where I was.
They were digging what looked like a shallow trench in the sand. When the trench was just the right dimensions, they carefully spread the dug sand around the area so it would look as natural as possible. Karl then lay down on his back in the trench, and Joel covered him with the sheet. Taking the bag of Cheetos, he tossed several on the sheet about where Karl’s stomach was, then put a few enticers on the sand around the Beach Chicken trap. Looking at the scene, I had to admit it was ingenious. Had to wonder, though, if the boys had considered what might happen if they actually snared one. Gulls have long sharp beaks, and those wings are big, strong and bony. I don’t imagine a trapped one would take kindly to being caught. Ah well, live and learn. Plus, what are the chances…?
Joel surveyed the scene and satisfied with their engineering walked over and sat down by me. “OK, Joel, how does this whole thing work?” I asked.
“Just watch, it won’t be long!” he chuckled.
As if on cue, gulls lured in by the tasty looking iridescent orange Cheetos started hovering over the area. Several of the braver ones landed a few feet from the trap eyeing it carefully, on the lookout for any funny business.
One by one the gulls walked closer, plucked a Cheeto lying on the ground and gobbled it down.
Then it happened. “Karl, there’s one getting set to hop on the sheet, get ready,” Joel quietly called. The gull walked onto the sheet. “OK, he’s on you. Go!”
Instantly, Karl sat straight up throwing the sheet over the gull trying to trap it in the folds.
“Got it!” he screamed. His aim was slightly off kilter, and he had only part of the gull. As predicted, the gull wasn’t having it. Finding its mark on his hands and arms, its beak pecking like a jackhammer, the one free wing beat Karl soundly about the head and shoulders. “Help, help, it’s eating me alive! I don’t want it to peck my eyes out!”
“Let go, Karl, let go!” we hollered. He fell back in the pit, and the gull sprang up, flew away, screeching its annoyance at the interruption to a perfectly good snack time.
The ride back to the campground was a quiet one. Surprisingly, there were only a few red marks on Karl’s face from the wing, and a couple scratches on his arms and hands. The upside was he still had both eyes. He’d also kept his good humor about the whole thing.
“Well, that was sort of fun, too bad it got away,” he said. As we pulled back into the campsite, Karl called out. “Hey, Joel, I’ve been thinking, and I got this really great idea. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could catch squirrels using our fishing poles? All we have to do is take off the hook, and then tie a peanut onto the line. Cast it out by one of them, and let them take the bait. They wouldn’t get hurt, but I can just imagine playing a big squirrel as he runs around trying to get the peanut off the line.
Could be way more fun than real fishing. Squirrels don’t bite, do they?”
Kids and camping… good times, good times.
To the Editor:
Enough is enough. Let’s not stumble into war with Iran. It should be a top priority for Congress to correct its historic blunder of passing the buck when it comes to war and peace. I was relieved to hear that the House of Representatives voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) (for the war in Iraq). I am hopeful that with the votes of Senators Peters and Stabenow, the Senate too will also soon vote to repeal the authorization, which has been used frequently to justify unrelated and unauthorized military activity. Most recently it was used to assassinate an Iranian official with a drone strike. Such a dangerous escalation could easily have brought us into a war. It already caused a plane explosion killing 160+ innocent lives as well as strikes on two bases which injured many US soldiers in Iraq. I encourage Senators Peters and Stabenow to make public statements to make certain that Congress takes back its authority to be involved in war-making decisions and to be certain we do not go to war with Iran. We ask them to vote for Sen Tim Kaine’s Iran War Powers Resolution (SJ Res 68) Act and Bill S-3159 to prevent funding for such a war. Enough of our involvement in the Middle East!
Member of the
Friends Committee on National Legislation
West Michigan Advocacy Team
Become a Nature Sanctuary Steward and help our native habitats thrive
By Sally Wagoner
We are lucky here in Newaygo County, for there are growing programs and growing interest in protecting our fragile native ecosystems. And you can help be part of this movement by becoming a Nature Sanctuary Steward and Volunteer.
These Newaygo County Nature Sanctuaries are seeking volunteers for upcoming habitat restoration days:
* Tuesday, February 11, 10am-1pm, Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary, Spruce Avenue south of Croton Drive.
* Tuesday, February 18, 10am – 1pm, Brooks Prairie, between Newaygo and Croton, on Middle Drive, 1/3rd mile south of
E. 56th St, east side of road.
* Friday, February 21, 10am - 1pm, Newaygo Prairie, South East corner of S Poplar Ave & E. 56th St., Newaygo.
To register for the workdays of your choice, contact Robb Johnston, Michigan Nature Association Regional Stewardship Manager: email@example.com; (517) 643-6864.
“Our main management goal at these sites is to provide habitat for the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, states Robb. “Newaygo County has a mosaic of Karner Blue populations and we are trying to create more space for them by encouraging growth of wild lupine (their host plant) and nectar sources (their food).”
As a volunteer, you will help with cutting and hauling invasive trees and bushes, and possibly burning brush piles. Tools will be available on site. Volunteers are urged to wear boots and warm layers of clothing depending on the weather.
As a Steward of these Nature Sanctuaries, you will be a protector, an educator, a champion and a warrior in helping our native plants, animals and pollinators to thrive.
“Our current focus at these Sanctuaries is to prevent shrubs and trees from encroaching into the prairie,” continued Robb. “By controlling the spread of invasive species, trees and shrubs (mostly honeysuckle, black cherry, and red pine), we allow more sunlight to reach ground level, which encourages the growth of the plants Karner Blue butterflies need”.
School youth groups are eagerly sought to help with restoration projects, and to become Stewards of these Nature Sanctuaries. Group leaders and teachers are urged to contact Robb Johnston for information.
Native species of bees, butterflies, moths, bats and other pollinators are diminishing, and some are threatened with extinction if there is no intentional intervention. Loss of native habitats are a major cause of pollinator demise due to the growth of human communities, deforestation and unsustainable forest management, land use changed to agriculture, pesticides, herbicides, pollution and climate change.
Disruptions of these original balanced ecosystems are affecting food systems not only for our native animals and insects, but for people as well. Loss of insects means loss of pollination of grasses, plants, fruit and nut trees, which diminishes food supplies for turkeys, deer, bear and people. Loss of pollinators also affects agricultural success in our home gardens as well as large farms.
Habitat conservation programs help communities, homeowners, farmers and growers increase native plant restoration on state lands, as well as private property. Farmers can get yearly payments from the federal government if they plant environmentally beneficial plants instead of crops on parts of their land. Information on this can be found at the USDA website, under Conservation Programs, or contact the local Newaygo Conservation District for help.
Stewardship of a local Nature Sanctuary can do all of the beneficial things for our eco-systems mentioned here. But stewardship can also do something perhaps less tangible, but with a broader rippling effect: stewardship of our local Nature Sanctuaries gives us the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with nature and the “other-than-human-beings”. Many who have studied our current species and habitat collapse state that this is at the heart of environment restoration and the healing of the Earth.
So when you come to one of the Nature Sanctuary volunteer days, before getting out the saws and pruners, try starting with this: Greet the Sanctuary and all the ‘other-than-human-beings’ when you arrive. Introduce yourself, and tell them why you are there – intending to help the struggling native plants and insects by removing plants that crowd out their natural sources of sustenance. Ask for their guidance as we humans work to the best of our ability to restore some of the damage that we have caused.
Plants, animals, insects and the land itself are all aware of “presence” and “activities”, and they respond to communication. We all come from a heritage of living close with the earth and our “other-than-human-being” relatives. When we reach out with intention, then pause and listen, we are then able to learn. That is when the relationship begins. That is when reciprocity occurs.
From our friends at Morrison Orchards
Thank You to Our Community
The generous spirit of our local community and beyond is always a lovely thing to witness. As I began our Australian bushfire relief fundraiser, I had no real idea how much I might collect. Friends, family, local area people I know, as well as complete strangers, generously have given. The goal was to collect funds to go directly to serve the needs of starving and injured animals, as well as to ease the suffering and financial losses of those who lost their homes and properties to the fires and were in immediate need. Grateful to have our friend, Rylan Edmistone, who lives in the fire stricken area of Budgong, New South Wales on the eastern side of Australia, I am happy now to share where the money has been put to work. As donations continued to arrive, I made three money transfers to him over the past month. Sent to date was a total of $5022 which equates to $7,265 in Australian currency. Half of the money is going to animal relief efforts and half to aid people. On the animal front, funds are continuing to sustain purchases of food pellets and fruit that Rylan and an area volunteer group are placing at food/water stations for kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, gliders, and other mammals and birds. Also some of the money has gone to a Kangaroo Valley area non-profit wombat rescue center whose efforts and need for funding have risen greatly with the injured wombats arriving in need of care. On the human front, money has been distributed to three groups – a portion to the local Budgong community to aid people who have lost their homes, a portion to nearby Illaroo Farm, a center for Aboriginal Australian culture which lost virtually everything due to fire, and a portion to the Firesticks Alliance, an Aboriginal Australian group, to aid in their continued work in promoting, sharing, teaching, and conducting ancient cultural burning practices which may be a viable means of reducing the enormous fuel loads of future fires.
My gratitude is enormous for those of you who so generously donated to help these efforts. It is good to know that the money is at work already and not held up in the red tape that often keeps donations from being put to work where and when needed the most. I am grateful, too, for the invitation from Shari Paulsen to speak at the Fremont Rotary meeting to share information about the tragedies of the bushfires, and I am grateful for that double edged sword - online social media – a force for good and evil, but in crisis like the ongoing Australian bushfires. It has been a godsend to the Australian people who have shared critical information and offered help to one another throughout their time of great need. It also has been a force for good in allowing me to spread the word that I was collecting donations. Hearing directly from people who have been affected by our collective giving, it is clear that they are truly grateful and it means a lot to them that we, on the other side of the world, are concerned for their well-being. I will be making another wire transfer of money sometime around Valentine’s Day and again at the end of February. If you are interested in helping, please feel free to send a donation to: Kathy Morrison 6128 S Maple Island Rd Fremont, MI 49412. You can see the original posts and updates for the fundraiser on our Morrison Orchards Facebook page. Again, thank you for following the fundraiser posts and for opening your hearts and wallets for the victims of the Budgong/Kangaroo Valley area of Australia.
Kathy and John Morrison
The Great Decisions Speaker Series brings national experts to West Michigan for thought-provoking discussions on eight critical and important global issues. The series kicks off on February 11 and includes a list of experts on topics the whole world is talking about. The Great Decisions Global Discussion speaker series is put together by the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan and will be live-streamed at the Dogwood Center for Performing Arts on Tuesdays, February 11 through March 31, 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. in the main stage.
The goal of the series is to discuss eight critical issues that are facing the world today, and features diplomats, policy makers, practitioners, think tank specialists and journalists using their diverse expertise to lead conversations. Climate change, human trafficking, the Philippines and the U.S., and artificial intelligence are a few of the global issues in the series.
“Our organization’s perspective on this series is that to change the world — or to even begin to understand global issues — one first must know about the world, and that’s what we attempt to do with Great Decisions,” Michael Van Denend, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan.
The Great Decisions Speaker Series will be video streamed live at the Dogwood Center, 4734 S. Campus Court, Fremont, from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Tuesday's, from February 11 through March 31. The lectures are free and open to the public. View the speaker schedule at www.dogwoodcenter.com. or www.worldmichigan.org.
Rep. VanSingel offers his take on the bond proposal
Governor Whitmer delivered her state of the state message last week. Much of the focus was on her plan to fulfill her campaign promise to ‘fix the damn roads’.
She unveiled a $3.5 billion bond proposal that would bypass the legislature who turned down her initial proposal to raise the gas tax by 45 cents a gallon.
From her speech:
“Our roads are dangerous, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to fix them.That’s why I’m taking action now to fix the damn roads and keep Michiganders safe. My Rebuild Michigan plan will ensure we start moving dirt this spring and save us money in the long run. But if we’re going to fix all the dangerous roads in Michigan, Republicans need to step up and get serious about finding a long-term road funding solution for our local roads and bridges. I’ll work with them when they’re ready, but in the meantime, I’m going to get to work fixing our state roads on my own.”
The roads getting fixed under the governor’s plan will be high volume freeway and non-freeway roads with the greatest economic impact and more average passenger vehicles per day.
A press release from CRAM (County Road Association of Michigan) indicates less than enthusiastic support from the organization:
The County Road Association of Michigan has called any road funding solution that does not provide additional dollars for local roads a woefully incomplete answer to the situation with Michigan roads.
“While not in a position to evaluate what is widely expected to be $3-plus billion in bonds for state trunkline projects – which comprise a mere 8% of Michigan’s road network – this actionable proposal from the Governor entirely leaves out the local and primary road network,” said Denise Donohue, director of CRAM, whose members are the 83 county road commissions and departments across the state.
N3 asked State Representative Scott VanSingel for his reaction to the bonding proposal.
"I was both encouraged and disappointed by the governor's state of the state address Wednesday. The governor and I share a common interest in improving and expanding education in Michigan, particularly her goal of reaching a workforce in which 60% of adults have a college degree or certificate. As chairman of the Higher Education committee in the House of Representatives, I have personally pledged my support to help reach this goal. Unfortunately, the governor's willingness to work with the legislature to obtain our shared goals seems to end there.
“Michigan was hit particularly hard during the last recession and was in very poor financial condition. We have spent roughly the last 10 years trying to dig out of debt, rebuild our rainy day fund, improve our badly neglected infrastructure, and in general improve our state's financial condition. The governor's proposal to borrow $3.5B by issuing bonds reverses this course and furthermore undermines the checks and balances on the branches of government as it is being done without any input from the legislature.
“While nearly all of us agree that more money is needed for road repairs, it is essential that the funds be invested in an equitable manner, that is distributed around the state fairly, and that we pay for these repairs in cash. Under the current proposal very little if any of this money will be spent in this district. Furthermore, borrowing money for a depreciating asset is rarely a good idea. When these bonds are fully issued, roughly $300M annually will be pulled out of the transportation fund for the next 25 years to service the debt. This is $300M annually which will no longer be going to roads and a total of roughly $7.5B in payments for $3.5B in work. Many of these roads will likely need major repairs again before the debt is ever repaid.
“As a general rule it is best not to criticize a plan unless we have a better idea. While there is probably not a perfect or painless plan, there have been ideas presented by the legislature which are a starting point and would inject a significant amount of money into roads with existing funds. There is currently approximately $800M in unspent funds in the general fund which could be appropriated for road repair. In addition, the House has proposed that the 6% sales tax on gas all go to roads, (it currently does not). This would add approximately $900M more annually to road repairs if we can find a plan to backfill the lost sales tax revenue so schools are not impacted. This is close to the amount of revenue the proposed bonds will generate over the next 3 years.
“I will continue to work with the governor and leadership in the House to develop a meaningful and fair road plan which is fair to rural residents and adequately addresses the problem. Michigan has come a long way in the past 10 years and I'm confident our best years are yet to come."
Note: State Senator Jon Bumstead previously weighed in with a column in our Pulse section entitled “A Step Backward for Michigan.”
State Sen. Jon Bumstead welcomed Cindy Larsen (left) and Amy VanLoon (right) to Lansing Wednesday as his guests for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2020 State of the State address. Larsen serves as president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and VanLoon serves as executive director of the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
A step backward for Michigan
By Sen. Jon Bumstead
As I sat and listened to the governor’s speech Wednesday evening, I found myself agreeing with some of the things she called for, while finding concerns with some of her plans.
I join her in her calls for funding our schools and making sure our kids have the opportunity to receive a quality education, while also having the options to make a sound career choice that works for them. Last year, the Legislature approved a budget that increased per-pupil funding as well as options available for those who wish to pursue a career in the trades.
In order to further increase avenues for student success, I introduced legislation that will give kids additional options when choosing courses as they prepare for their life ahead. My legislation would put coursework and curriculum decisions back in the hands of local districts. Specifically, the bills would eliminate certain graduation requirements and give students the chance to take other classes that might better prepare them for their future. I hope I can count on her support.
I also found myself sharing many of the governor’s concerns about things like clean water and our environment. Michigan has led the nation in measures to remediate ongoing PFAS issues and spent a great deal of time and effort to ensure folks have safe drinking water. As chairman of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy budget, I remain committed to these efforts and agree that this must continue to be a top priority.
We must also continue to monitor the unfortunate situation currently facing the Great Lakes. Lawmakers must work to seek out efforts to mitigate the ongoing high water and erosion issues that impact our public infrastructure. I would have liked to see the governor speak more on her plans to help alleviate these problems in the future.
I find it concerning for the governor to admit that she is going around the Legislature, the traditional avenue for funding measures, to plunge the state into over $3.5 billion of debt. Since 2015 the Legislature has pumped additional money into road and infrastructure repairs, and even included additional funding in this year’s budget prior to it being vetoed. There have been several discussions on how we can repurpose existing resources without increasing taxes or borrowing against future generations, and I would much prefer seeing those plans come to fruition.
Less than 24 hours after her speech, the Michigan Department of Transportation was given the authority to sell bonds as her plan to force Michigan into an uncertain, expensive future went into effect.
I join my colleagues in having strong reservations about this as an avenue for fixing Michigan’s roads. The governor’s plan largely focuses on southeast Michigan and does nothing to address funding for local roads in my district, despite sticking taxpayers in my district with the bill.
Additionally, the Legislature spent the last 10 years paying down debts exactly like the one the governor just committed Michigan to for the next nearly three decades. The state is still paying off bonds from the Gov. Engler era. I find it hard to get behind passing the buck to our kids as the best approach.
I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fund our schools, improve drinking water and the environment and look at ways we can make meaningful repairs to our infrastructure.
I look forward to the governor’s upcoming budget presentation and working with her administration to get a budget done on time and continuing efforts to make Michigan a better place to live and do business.
Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, represents the 34th state Senate District, which includes Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana counties.
By: Michelle Allen, Roxanne Kammer, and Jennifer Sherburn
What do renovation, the HGTV television channel, and the Village of Hesperia, Michigan have in common? A group of caring and motivated residents are putting together an application for HGTV's next big series called “Home Town Takeover” in hopes of revitalizing our small community. In order to qualify, towns must have fewer than 40,000 residents, "great architecture longing to be revealed," and a main street that needs a facelift.
The Village of Hesperia, which has approximately 900 residents, is surrounded by the Manistee National Forest and situated on the White River with some of the best fishing in the region. The Village is also unique because two Michigan highways intersect in the center and is shared by two different counties--Newaygo and Oceana. Although it has great outdoor activities, the Village certainly has some historic homes and storefronts that could be transformed.
Lifelong resident and retired teacher Sara Kraley is part of the team collaborating on the Village's application. She said, "In addition to the renovation of historic homes and downtown storefronts, we hope HGTV will also consider improvements to the areas surrounding the river. Hesperia’s rich history and also its future is inexorably linked to the White River. Improvements made to our parks, the dam, the ‘swimming hole’, the sports park, and the islands have the potential of putting Hesperia on the map as a premier tourist destination. A bustling tourism industry would encourage additional business opportunities and growth." Additionally, recent Hesperia graduate, Anastasia Klimovitz, digital creator at Zara Creative, is helping the team put together a professional video to showcase both what is loved about the Village, as well as what "needs love.”
Lacy Anderson Stoneburner is collaborating with the team and shared that she grew up in Hesperia and decided to move back when her husband retired from the military. She reported that after living in multiple places around the US, Hesperia was home and where she wanted to raise her family.
Only six towns will be selected to be featured during the series and the deadline is February 7th. Also, working on the Village's application are Julie Burrell, Monica Grimard, Michelle Allen, Kristin Balkema, Kristen Worchester, Roxanne Kammer, and Jennifer Sherburn. Sherburn said, "Just working together on this project has been wonderful. It really goes to show how much love and support there is out there to make Hesperia the best it can be and how many people love living here, working here, and enjoying all the things a rural, small West Michigan town has to offer."
“Many people who reside in Hesperia have such a heart for our community, but do not have financial means to improve their homes or business store fronts - this is a perfect combination for HGTV!” Burrell said. “An investment in Hesperia is an investment in our future, and will further support continued growth for our community.” Regardless of winning or losing, this project will give Hesperia a foundation to continue building the Village up and focusing on identified needs.
Newaygo County Road Commission Manager Kelly Smith was honored on the occasion of his retirement at the regular meeting of the Newaygo County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday January 22.
Smith began his career at the RC in 1985 when he hired on as a driver and heavy equipment operator. From there he rose through the ranks to become Manager, a leadership postition he has held since 2001.
Personally, I have known Kelly for about 15 years having met him through my media work, initially at the Times Indicator and in more recent years as part of Near North Now.
In the news world one is often asked to interview people in positions within government organizations or services to get information on this or that in an effort to shine a little light for readers, adhering to the old adage that sunlight is the best of all disinfectants.
Some folks are a bit less than forthcoming to say the least. This is likely due to being cautious about being misinterpreted or being hesitant toward giving out info that might not be well received by those they serve.
Then on all too rare occasions you encounter someone in one of these positions who are straightforward, forthcoming and accountable when things have gone awry.
Kelly Smith falls into this category.
When I would arrive at his office at the RC he welcomed me in and answered my inquiriess with candor and honesty. If there were problems he would discuss them, if new iniatitives were coming down the pike he shared the reasons behind them, and if situations arose that created conflict with the RC mission of delivering quality service to the people of our county he was never hesitant to call out the sources of his frustration.
The Road Commission is one of those entities that draws complaints because of the nature of the job they perform. Someone’s streets aren’t being plowed in a timely manner, work being carried out isn’t perceived to be done correctly and of course there is always the occasional mailbox issue. It’s the nature of the work and the nature of many folks to complain.
Kelly recognized it was their right as taxpayers to grumble about perceived shortcomings of the organizations work and he saw it as part of his job to listen to these complaints and comments and resolve the issue when he could.
And most of all he understood clearly the power of collaboration. Under his leadership and with the backing of the 3 member Road Commission ( Bill Gonyon, Doug Harmon and Lou Meeuwenburg) the organization has worked with cities, townships, and a variety of county offices to increase efficiencies and contain costs to the citizenry. These efforts allowed tax dollars to be stretched rather than spent and projects resulting from these initiatives are part of the RC legacy under his direction.
Kelly also recognized the importance of succession planning and with the approval of his board he brought forward someone he trusted and who, like him, came up through the ranks. Since then he has helped mentor him on the nuances of the job once he knew retirement was in the near future.
This past year when transitioning from editor of N3 to taking a seat as one of the members of the County Commission my contact with Kelly changed as my role in interacting with him took on a different context.
And yet I found him to be the same person he was when we would sit in his office answering my endless questions with patience and openness.
Rest assured the NCRC is being left in good hands as his successor Derek Wawsczyk has the ongoing support of the Road Commission Board and inherits the competent crew who populate the office, the garage and the roads. Meanwhile Kelly will be able to spend more time pursuing his passion for bracket racing with the help and support of his wife Pam.
But personally? As one who has known Kelly as a media rep and later on as a county official?
He will be missed.
N3 asked the Mayors of our local cities to provide us with a bit of a review of the past year as well as a little preview for what might be coming down the pike for 2020.
Our first offering featured the city of Grant.
Our next piece visited the county seat of White Cloud
Then we headed west to get the skinny on Fremont
And now we hear from Newaygo the city where a river definitely runs through it.
The basic purpose of city government is to maintain city facilities, address zoning and building regulations, and promote that city’s economic development, in addition to providing law enforcement and fire protection. The City of Newaygo entered 2019 prepared to focus on proactive projects and creative solutions to challenges in these areas.
In March the City Council approved a 5-year Master Plan which was the culmination of two years of work among community stakeholders, local citizens, and city employees. Among other things, the Master Plan provides a framework for land use development and will guide zoning decisions to make sure that the desires of the community are converted into action. The next step is for the various city committees to approve the zoning ordinances necessary to support this Plan, which is anticipated to take up to two years.
Adequate housing remains a challenge, and city officials remain committed to providing affordable housing options to city residents and newcomers. Several new homes have been built in the last few years, with plans in place for more construction projects, including multi-family dwellings.
2019 was year two of the “I Am Newaygo” initiative intended to encourage stakeholders like city residents and employees to work closely with elected and appointed community leaders. “I Am Newaygo” actively solicits input and community engagement through a series of meetings. Residents are encouraged to provide their input via these meetings and on the “I Am Newaygo” facebook page.
Upgrading the city sewage and lift stations and wastewater facility continued, and this project is expected to be completed by year-end of 2020. This is one of the silent, but extremely necessary, projects that the city proactively addresses.
Thanks to Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) grants there are some very visible projects taking place. The Community Development Block Grant, or “Façade Grant” has made it possible for Northwoods General Store and Market 41/Muskegon River Inn to embark on major renovation projects. Brickwork, new windows, and interior refurbishing are just some of the things taking place at these two businesses.
Developing and maintaining an attractive and accessible Riverfront is an underlying goal for the City of Newaygo. With that in mind, the Michigan Land Bank Authority Grant paid for the demolition of three deteriorated buildings behind The Stream. This was a proactive move in preparation for future development.
“Walkability” is a relatively new concept to Newaygo, and it simply means working together to facilitate the continuous flow of traffic while providing for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. To that end, the bridge over the Muskegon River was restriped to convert traffic to one lane in each direction with left-turn lanes at the M-82 intersection and Wood and Water streets. This has reduced traffic speed and limited blind left turns at the intersections, making it safer for walkers and bikers and should reduce traffic accidents.
In October, the City Council approved an expenditure of $123,500 to hire U.P. Engineers & Architects Inc. as the engineering firm for the Newaygo Crossing Pedestrian Bridge Project. The proposed bridge will be a pedestrian structure to connect Henning Park and the end of Wood Street and allow safe travels between downtown Newaygo and the park. This initial expenditure will cover survey and soil boring work on the bridge. The City is also researching various grant opportunities to help finance this venture.
The City of Newaygo is not exempt from the current opioid epidemic and in January the City Council approved a request to locate “Randy’s House” in the city limits. This residence is considered a prevention (not treatment) facility and is annually inspected by the State of Michigan. It offers recovery coaching, peer support and a direct connection to community resources; and it does not accept violent criminal or sex offenders as residents.
Throughout 2019 Newaygo saw two major employer expansions. Both GM Wood Products and Magna International expanded their facilities and increased their number of employees with support from the City of Newaygo. A growing employment base is a sign of a healthy community and underscores the necessity of providing adequate housing which is all addressed in the new Master Plan.
The Newaygo Police Department works very proactively with the schools and community to prevent crimes before they happen. Over the summer they introduced a Cop Card program similar to baseball trading cards. Each officer has their own Cop Card to hand out to youngsters in an attempt to familiarize children with the officers of the community as well as build relationships between the officers and young people.
During the spring of 2019, the NPD received a grant to purchase a TruNarc hand-held narcotics device that tests drugs through packaging without having to open the package. This will aid Newaygo and other county officers in their fight against drug abuse.
After the resignation of Fire Chief Jason Wolford due to job conflicts, Travis Kroll was named as Newaygo Fire Chief mid-way through 2019. Through various fund-raising projects the NFD purchased an Auto Plus automated CPR system which frees up first responders to attend to other critical issues and alleviates stress and fatigue on those persons performing CPR.
City infrastructure is being maintained and improved, the economy continues to grow, challenges like housing are being addressed, and law enforcement and fire protection continue looking for proactive ways to keep citizens safe. The City ended 2019 poised to continue finding creative solutions that will ensure Newaygo remains a great place to live, work and recreate in the years to come.
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