Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo group works to preserve area adjacent to the Kleinstuck Preserve

The Stewards of Kleinstuck have launched a campaign to purchase undeveloped woodland next to the preserve.
Keep Kalamazoo wild.
 
That’s the rallying slogan and the branding for a line of merchandise sold by a group of Westnedge Hill and Oakland/Winchell neighbors as they try to keep nearly 12 acres adjacent to the Kleinstuck Preserve natural and suitable habitat for wildlife and casual recreation.
 
The Stewards of Kleinstuck are trying to raise money to buy 11.8 acres of undeveloped woodland just east of the Kleinstuck Preserve, generally accessed from the 2000 block of Hudson Avenue. That block and most of the land involved is in the Westnedge Hill Neighborhood. It adjoins the Kleinstuck Preserve, which straddles the Westnedge Hill and Oakland/Winchell neighborhoods.
 
“It’s special that we have such a wild place right in the heart of the city,” says Erin Fuller, president of the Stewards of Kleinstuck. The nonprofit, volunteer organization made up of area residents and nature lovers, hopes to keep it a special place.
Erin Fuller is president of the Stewards of Kleinstuck.
A home for barred owls, white-tailed deer, red foxes, nesting wood ducks, Canada geese, frogs, turtles, and an occasional coyote, the land is private property but has been commonly used for years as a contiguous part of the Kleinstuck Preserve. It can, for instance, be accessed just south of the tennis courts at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo (at 1001 W. Maple St.).
 
The land is owned by a couple that used to live in a home adjacent to it. They sold their home a few years ago, relocated, and put the undeveloped property up for sale last October, operating as CS Woodland LLC. They had apparently amassed five parcels of wooded property over a period of years but allowed the public to use it and its access trails to access the Kleinstuck Marsh trail, which is just under 1 mile long. The listing price is $699,000.
 
Approximately 3.9 acres of the property is presently zoned for potential single- and multiple-family residential uses. The medium-density zoning would allow the construction of up to 15 residential units per acre. Another 7.9 acres is zoned for potential single-family residential development. It could be used to build up to five residential units per acre.
 
Fuller says her group has feared that a commercial property developer would show an interest. Two bids that the Stewards have made were rejected as too low, she says. Although she would not disclose how much the offers were, she says the sellers were asked to consider gifting part of the land for conservation.
 
“People care about having natural areas,” Fuller says. “We knew that there’s community support for this kind of thing.”
 
Fuller says her group has gathered more than $300,000 in pledges of financial support, primarily from knocking on the doors of people in the area. Some residents of Forest Glen condominiums, which are located on the west side of Hudson Avenue (just north of the property the Stewards of Kleinstuck hope to buy), are among those who have made financial pledges.
 
Fuller and Heather Ratliff, vice president of the Stewards of Kleinstuck, are starting to do presentations to other community organizations as they court contributors. Ratliff works as a wellness nurse. Fuller is watershed coordinator for the Van Buren County Conservation District. As such, she does projects to help keep the rivers and lakes of West Michigan clean. Her husband, Nate, is director of the Sarett Nature Center in Benton Harbor. The couple is among neighborhood residents who can walk out of their backyards and onto access trails that lead into the Kleinstuck Preserve.
 
Graphic artist Alyson Cameron, another area resident, has developed the Keep Kalamazoo Wild logo as well as designs for T-shirts and other merchandise that are to be sold to help raise funds. Those interested in making a contribution to the effort may do so via KeepKalamazooWild.com or here.  
 
The Stewards of Kleinstuck is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has a 10-member board of directors, a core of about 20 people who are involved in voluntary clean-ups and walking tours of the area, and a mailing list of about 500 people. The Stewards’ spring Frog Walks have attracted up to 100 people at a time to the preserve.
 
Wildlife in the Kleinstuck Preserve includes this gaggle of Canada geese.
The organization got its start in 2007 as neighbors and community members united with ecologists and land managers from Western Michigan University to try to create a healthier, more diverse and beautiful ecosystem to benefit wildlife and the community in the Kleinstuck Preserve. The preserve is owned by WMU.
 
If the Stewards of Kleinstuck gain control of the property, Fuller says the organization plans to help preserve the area with deed restrictions that would prevent it from being developed “at the very least.” It would also craft a conservation easement that protects the value of the property, she says.
 
“Ultimately, we’d love to see a bigger conservation organization as an owner,” she says. “But we don’t have that yet.”
 
Why should outsiders want to help?
 
Fuller says, “It’s heavily used by the neighbors, of course. But it’s also used by people throughout the region. It’s one of the top bird-watching sites in southwest Michigan and, for example, the Audubon Society leads regular bird hikes there. And also the Y is right there.”
 

The YMCA, which is just north of the property in question, uses the preserve during fair-weather months to educate youngsters who participate in the Y’s early childhood education program. “They take kids out once a week or more,” Fuller says. “It provides those kids the opportunity to experience nature.”
 
It is also used by science teachers to augment the learning of students at Maple Street Magnet School and by teachers at the Kazoo School on nearby Cherry Street. “It really is a resource for the whole community,” Fuller says.
 
The decision to buy the land was a natural reaction to it being put up for sale. Efforts to do that slowed over the past two months as everyone dealt with the coronavirus outbreak. But people’s love for outdoor space as they try to get a break from being sheltered indoors from the virus, was motivation to push ahead with plans to try to purchase the land.
 
“Everyone is wanting to get out into nature right now,” Fuller says. “We don’t have a lot of places where we can go right now and in the Kleinstuck Preserve, we’ve seen a lot more use since the pandemic hit. … I would say we’ve easily doubled the number of visitors.”
 
Its wide trails allow people to maintain proper social distancing, she says, and “People are eager to get out. People are craving this outdoor activity and maybe now is the time to ask people to help us save more of the natural area.”

Stewards of Kleinstuck are raising money to buy the 11.8 acres of undeveloped land just east of Kleinstuck Preserve. Bordered in pink, the land leads away from the 2000 block of Hudson Avenue in the northern part of the Westnedge Hill Neighborhood.

 

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.