Blog: Tom Woiwode

How is Thomas M. Woiwode a champion for conservation? For starters, he has raised over $125 million in private funds for conservation purposes. Plus he's completed more than 300 conservation real estate acquisitions. He's worked for decades to preserve natural spaces, create greenways and otherwise make this a greener state, region and planet. He's our guest blogger this week to share his experiences and ideas to keep this ball rolling.

Post 4: Regionalism

Let’s go to the park today. Specifically, let’s go visit Richmond. If you’re not familiar with Richmond, it’s on the eastern edge of Macomb County, about 45 miles from downtown Detroit. It’s a nice little town of about 5,500 people, with a vibrant commercial district made up of all of the things we think of when we think of thriving little communities—restaurants, shops, professional office buildings. Richmond has a great deal to offer.

But we’re here to visit a park. I suppose you could say that the park we’re visiting is not much of a park. When I talked to a representative of Richmond’s recreation department, she described it as "basically a trailhead, with a gazebo, some park benches, restroom facilities." In fact, it doesn’t really have a name; the friendly folks of Richmond refer to it as the trailhead park.

This story, though, is not really about the park; it’s about what the park symbolizes. Richmond, you see, is at the end of the Macomb Orchard Trail, a 24-mile abandoned rail corridor that has been converted to a walking and biking path. The Macomb Orchard Trail covers the entirety of Macomb County, from Rochester to Richmond, traveling through such communities as Shelby Township, Romeo, Armada…and Richmond. The County took the lead on the trail’s development, and over the past decade has been acquiring land and building the trail, piece by piece.

It’s not easy to present to the public a concept plan, then implement it in pieces. Some communities get served first; others have to wait. But, when funds for acquisition and construction come from a variety of sources over a number of years, as was the case with the Macomb Orchard Trail—federal, state and county dollars matched by private contributions, including grants from the Community Foundation—it takes time.

To help with the development, construction and management of the trail, the communities formed an intergovernmental agreement, characteristic for a project but quite uncharacteristic for southeast Michigan. Through that agreement, the communities served by the Macomb Orchard Trail paid into a fund that helped with the development plans and, as segments of the trail came on line, assisted with its management.

Richmond was one of those communities. They were also at the end of the line. As the trail was developed from the west to east, Richmond dutifully paid into the fund; representatives participated in the meetings; they contributed to the trail’s management, even though they hadn’t gotten their segment of the trail. They invested in the common good because they knew their community would benefit and their day would come.

And come it did. Construction began on the eastern segment of the Macomb Orchard Trail, bringing it into Richmond. And to welcome the trail, and the visitors who used the trail, Richmond built a park, a trailhead park.

We often talk about how difficult it is here in southeast Michigan to get communities to work together, to look outside their boundaries, to share resources for the betterment of the region.  In Macomb County, though, a handful of communities, working with the county, developed a shared vision for what they wanted to be—what they could become—as communities, and as partners, and went about implementing that vision, working together on this simple project in ways that we don’t see often enough.

One could say it’s not much of a park. But it represents so much more. As a park, it represents how each of the communities along the Macomb Orchard Trail will benefit from the trail—how we’ll become healthier, and learn more about our environment, and learn more about our communities, and each other. And as an investment, it illustrates how communities can come together, can collaborate to make our region stronger, to make us better, as a region, as a community, and as people.

So if you go to Richmond, look for the park. It’s at the end of the trail.

Or maybe it’s the beginning.