Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
The Stewards of Kleinstuck have signed a purchase agreement to buy nearly 12 acres of unspoiled woodland just east of the Kleinstuck Preserve in Kalamazoo.
The group, which works with ecologists and land managers to safeguard the nature preserve for wildlife and the enjoyment of people, is now looking for contributions to help it complete the acquisition.
“In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when everything was shut down, it became clear that nature wasn’t shut down,” says Erin Fuller, president of the Stewards of Kleinstuck. Saying the preserve and its adjacent land have been a refuge for many over the past few months, she adds, “That was one place that we could all find a little respite and just connect to our world again. It’s clear how valuable it is and it’s not to be taken for granted.”
Wildlife like this barred owl family flourishes in the woods in and around the Kleinstuck Preserve
Kleinstuck Preserve is a 48-acre woodland located in southwest Kalamazoo in the Westnedge Hill and Oakland/Winchell neighborhoods. It is owned by Western Michigan University. The land the Stewards are working to buy is just east of the preserve, generally accessed from the 2000 block of Hudson Avenue. Along with the preserve, it has been a longtime home for white-tailed deer, barred owls, ducks, geese, foxes, turtles, and other animals.
Stewards of Kleinstuck decided late last year that buying the property – before it could be acquired and developed – was something it had to do. The land was listed for sale in October for $699,000. The Stewards, who hoped to buy at a lower price, signed a purchase agreement on July 7, for an undisclosed amount.
Through May, the nonprofit organization of neighbors, friends, and nature-lovers, had solicited pledges of more than $134,000 primarily by going door-to-door in adjacent neighborhoods. It also received a pledge to match up to $250,000 in contributions from a donor who asked not to be named.
Erin Fuller, president of the Stewards of Kleinstuck
The 11.8 acres in question is private property whose owners have allowed it and its trails to be used as a contiguous part of the Kleinstuck Preserve. The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo (at 1001 W. Maple St.) is just north of the property and uses it to take children on hikes and nature walks during its summer camps.
Fuller says her organization, which has a 10-member board of directors and a 650-person mailing list, launched a Keep Kalamazoo Wild fund-raising campaign in May and is presently working to raise enough money to cover a down-payment on the property by early September. It is coordinating its campaign at keepkalamazoowild.com.
That site has a donation page and “Keep Kalamazoo Wild” branded merchandise, including T-shirts, hats, vinyl stickers, and tote bags. Funds from the merchandise and all donations are to be used to purchase the property, according to Fuller.
“We have one chance to raise the funds needed to purchase this property,” Fuller says. “If we complete the purchase, our goal is to keep this property in its natural state and open to the public forever.”
Fuller, whose backyard borders the property, describes the purchase as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “If this property goes away and is developed, we don’t get it back and there are just not that many other natural properties in Kalamazoo to save anymore,” she says.
She says that although the effort has struggled during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time to make the purchase.
“We want this to be open to everyone in Kalamazoo forever,” Fuller says. “I’m thinking of my great-grandchildren. If they still live in Kalamazoo, they will be able to explore this property and all the kids at the YMCA that use it as part of their programming will still have access to nature and the out-of-doors.”
Fuller and her husband Nate have one young son, Theo.
The property, in blue, lies just to the east of the Kleinstuck Preserve and south of the YMCA.The private property has long been used by families, schools and YMCA members as though it was already a part of the public land of Kleinstuck Preserve