by Brian Shek KALAMAZOO, MI — Richard Brewer, 81, has lived in Oshtemo Township since 1959 and he said he has enjoyed the open space of the lAsylum Lake preserve for as long. “People have different values,” Brewer said, as protesters circled off Drake Road, holding up signs to passing motorists. “Some people’s ivalues are to turn land like this into some way (of making) money.” “Other people value saving it.” On Friday, more than 50 people gathered on Drake Road, across from Asylum Lake preserve, to protest Western Michigan University’s plan to expand its business technology and research park onto Colony Farm Orchard. The Colony Farm Orchard property was originally conveyed to WMU in the 1970s with restrictions that it only could be used for public park, recreation or open space purposes. The state removed the restriction in 2010, allowing WMU to develop the land. The Colony Farm Orchard property is located at the northwest corner of Drake Road and Parkview Avenue, adjacent to U.S. 131. WMU officials say the BTR Park has no room for expansion, prompting the push to develop Colony Farm Orchard. “All of this land came to WMU in a period of just a few years — it was all open area,” Brewer said. “It’s land that was originally meant to be persevered … until a mistake the legislators and governors made (in allowing the development). “It’s a very bad idea to destroy this area,” he added. The Colony Farm Orchard property is fenced off, unlike the Asylum Lake preserve on the other side of Drake Road, which is open to the public. Western Michigan University students, activists and other concerned citizens attended the protest, which was organized by the Kalamazoo Peace Center. Many expressed their concerns over the Asylum Lake nature preserve, fearing the construction on Colony Farm Orchard might have on the area. “This is an important wildlife corridor,” said Doug Keto, a hydrology major and president of the Biology Club at WMU.”It has natural springs that feed into the Asylum Lake watershed. It’s a buffer between noise, air and light pollution. “It’s an alleyway for animals to move from one place to another (as they) gather food, water and other resources … it’s just an important pathway,” he said. Other protesters, such as Tammy Hibner, expressed what the Asylum Lake preserve means to them and criticized WMU’s plans for expansion. “This is our place of rest, our wild spaces,” said Tammy Hibner, an Edison neighborhood resident who visits the Asylum Lake preserve once a month. “In the 24/7 rat race — it’s the place to get away.” “I’m just really sick of how WMU disregards what citizens of Kalamazoo want, and what alumni want,” she added. “The university says they’re going to develop the land sustainably,” said Kestrel Marcel, 24, co-director of the peace center. “From my perspective, the land is sustainable as it is. “I challenge the university to take their sustainable identity and turn it into more than just a buzzword,” she added, while a petition passed from protester to protester. “When it comes to actually preserving land under the covenant of sustainability, (the university) seems to (only) talk,” she said. In an interview with WMUK (102.1 FM) and the Kalamazoo Gazette earlier this week, WMU President John Dunn pointed to the success of the BTR Park as a top-notch development in discussing the expansion to Colony Farm Orchard. He noted that WMU has won awards for its management of the watershed at the BTR Park and said the “environmental stewardship” at Colony Farm would be consistent with it. Other protesters, such as Mark Dunham, 52, a resident of the Stuart Neighborhood, bemoaned the university for attempting to develop Colony Farm Orchard despite owning land in downtown Kalamazoo. “There are 10 acres of vacant land in the Central Business District that isn’t generating a nickel of taxable revenue,” Dunham said. “There are plenty of field spaces … Yet they’re taking out a (20-year multimillion-dollar bond) to develop a nature preserve. “It’s just wrong, for a number of reasons,” he added. A Change.org petition to “Save Old Colony Farm Orchard” was created by members of the peace center and has 675 supporters. To learn more abound t the movement, visit the Kalamazoo PeaceCenter’s Facebook page.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Not everyone is excited about Western Michigan University’s plans to build a second Business, Technology, and Research Park on Colony Farm Orchard.
Protestors announced plans to demonstrate on the site Friday afternoon.
The demonstrators are gathering right now, saying the university’s plans to develop the 40 to 44 acres of land fly in the face of the original intent of the deed that the land be preserved for public park or recreation space.
However, that restriction was lifted by the legislature five years ago, and WMU says it plans on being a good steward.
WMU graduates Scott Warner and Nola Wiersma are on a mission to try and preserve this parcel of land as green space.
“We are urging the university to honor that commitment, and say this should be used for public and recreation space; not for development,” Wiersma said.
The Kalamazoo Peace Center, which Wiersma co-directs, has launched an online petition drive expressing concern about development of the Colony Farm Orchard for the expansion of WMU’s Business, Technology, and Research Park–or BTR 2.0.
The petition–which has close to 800 signatures–calls for the plans to be withdrawn.
“Sure, they’re leaving Asylum Lake Preserve, but they were supposed to leave this, so they really have no right to develop this; it might be legal but its not ethical,” Warner said.
Warner, who plans to pursue his Ph.D. in plant biology at MSU says this land–which is dotted with oak trees–provides an important food source for wildlife as well as a buffer against noise pollution for those who enjoy the Asylum Lake Preserve across the street.
He’s also concerned about the impact development will have on the water supply for the preserve–both share a creek.
WMU Vice President of Community Outreach Bob Miller says they are committed to making sure there is not a negative environmental impact on the Asylum Lake area.
While protestors would like to see the Colony Farm Orchard annexed into the Asylum Lake Preserve, Miller says that’s not in the plan; but they remain committed to keeping their word to the community to maintain the preserve.
“We have certainly been very cognizant of the need to set aside green space, we made that commitment, we are sticking to it, we never said Colony Farm would not be developed,” he said. “We’re moving in that direction.”
Miller says the approach to environmental sustainability and stewardship was part of the design of the original Business, Technology, and Research Park will be carried over to Colony Farm.
Whether they’ll be able to win people over to their side remains to be seen.
Press Release from Save Old Colony Farm Orchard:
For immediate release 4-2-2015
Public opposition and protests to ensue following Western Michigan University’s announcement of expanding business and tech research park into historical conservation easement; students and greater Kalamazoo community unite to defend it yet again.
Western Michigan University Students and Associates
Kalamazoo Peace Center, Biology Club, Students for a Sustainable Earth, Greater Kalamazoo Community
2101 Wilbur Ave, Kalamazoo, MI, 49006
“Western Michigan University’s continuous attempts to develop Colony Farm Orchard are an absurd contradiction. I am proud to be a student at WMU because of our stated commitment to sustainability. However, these plans are inconsistent with that commitment, and the university must consider the ecological consequences of developing this land.” – Doug Keto, President of WMU BioClub
Kalamazoo, MI: On Friday, April 3rd, 2015 at 5 pm people will gather outside Colony Farm Orchard adjacent to Asylum Lake Preserve on Drake Road to protest the proposed destruction of the 54-acre wild space. A cohesive group of WMU students and community members have assembled to protect Colony Farm Orchard from another attempt by Western Michigan University to develop it.
The movement calls itself “Save Old Colony Farm Orchard” and has authored a petition insisting that the University annex Colony Farm Orchard into Asylum Lake Preserve to respect the initial covenant of the land. This covenant granted the land to WMU on the premise that it be preserved for public use and recreation. The petition has acquired over 500 signatures and is accompanied by growing support through social media. People are gathering to insist that the University pursue expansion of the Business, Technology, & Research (BTR) Park at another site and leave Colony Farm Orchard untouched.
Colony Farm Orchard is an essential and ecologically continuous part of Asylum Lake Preserve. The orchard is a wildlife corridor for many species between the two areas, in addition to a buffer against noise, unnatural light, and sound pollution from US-131. However, Colony Farm Orchard should be most critically considered for preservation to prevent contamination of the Asylum Lake Preserve watershed. If Colony Farm Orchard is destroyed, a sanctuary for diverse plants and animals will be further fragmented, and the health of the springs and groundwater feeding into Asylum Lake will be compromised – which will have dire consequences for the local ecosystem.
“I am a student apiarist at Colony Farm Orchard and have spent many hours observing the bees collect nectar and pollen from the old apple trees and goldenrod. Having regular interaction with the forest has been a huge gift for me, and destruction of these woods would impact the lives of many that also are enchanted by this unique wild space – not to mention reducing viable forage for our pollinators.” – Shaana Way, Students for a Sustainable Earth & Gibbs House Fellow
Save Old Colony Farm Orchard will continue to build community pressure and power to stop the University and the county and township of Oshtemo from developing Colony Farm Orchard. The movement intends to build community cohesion to stop the destruction of these woods and to preserve wild spaces for all to enjoy.
The petition can be accessed at Change.org.