Bysterveld Park, in praise of the smaller parks
Bysterveld Park is a small, 70 acre park in the northeast corner of Allegan County, Michigan. It isn’t the type of park or place I normally look for to go hiking or exploring, but this one is personal. My uncle and aunt, John and Josie Bysterveld, donated the land for the park to Allegan County, to be used specifically for a park.
I didn’t know my aunt and uncle well, but I can still remember visiting them when I was young, and John B, as we called him, showing us around the property that has become Bysterveld Park. I can still remember how he knew every inch of the land, the plants and animals that lived there, and how much he cared for them.
My aunt and uncle never had any children, but what they did have was that seemingly unique Dutch trait of being generous tightwads. By that, I mean they lived a frugal life and never spent a penny they didn’t have to, but, they donated generously to the church, other charities they believed in, as well as friends and family. So my uncle donating his property to the County for every one to enjoy is right in character.
My aunt Josie passed away first, and John B lived alone for the rest of his life. When he was making out his will, he included a provision donating part of his land to Allegan County, with the stipulation that the land be used as a park. The County fought him on that stipulation, they would accept the land alright, but they wanted the ability to turn around and sell it.
It is kind of funny reading about the park on the County’s website now about what a great piece of property it is, when they didn’t want it as a park when my uncle first proposed it. This is from the County’s website…
“It encompasses a beautiful 70-acre parcel of natural area generously donated to the County by the late John and Josie Bysterveld. …. There are many splendid natural features that can be found on the park property, including rolling hills, wet meadows, wetlands, and woodland areas”
There are no spectacular scenic overviews, no bright blue lakes with sandy beaches, and no clear, fast flowing rivers, it is a quiet, unassuming place, much like John B and Josie were in life. Most people would drive by and pay it no notice, if it hadn’t become a park. But, it is exactly one of the types of lands we should be preserving. As the County website says, it is rolling hills, wet meadows, wetlands, and woodland areas. It is home to dozens of species of wildflowers, birds, and animals. It is the type of wetland area that holds and controls rain run-off, and protects our clear, fast flowing rivers from sediment and flash flooding.
There are small streams connecting the small wetlands, and those streams eventually flow into our rivers and lakes. The wetlands trap and hold rainfall, releasing it slowly into the streams and rivers, and that provides moisture to plant and animal life during times of drought, as well as helping to control flooding when the rain does fall. The water from the wetlands in Bysterveld Park flow into first the Little Rabbit River, then Rabbit River, a fair trout stream, then the Kalamazoo River, and eventually into Lake Michigan.
Not every area is a Yellowstone or Yosemite, but they are worth preserving never the less. In some ways, these small places are more important to preserve for the effect they have on our local environment, and our quality of life.
I love Yellowstone, I would love to live near there and spend as much time exploring it as I do the Pigeon River Country here in Michigan, but that isn’t going to happen, not soon anyway. But, these small parks like Bysterveld are only a few minutes from where I live, I can visit them often, not just once or twice a year, or once or twice in a lifetime.
The wetlands and streams in Bysterveld Park play a huge role in maintaining the water quality in a trout stream I fish once in a while, the Rabbit River. That in turn helps a river that needs all the help it can get, the Kalamazoo River, probably the most polluted river in southwest Michigan. And when millions of people go to the fabulous beaches of Lake Michigan, they aren’t thinking of little places like the wetlands in Bysterveld Park, but they should be. For it is because of areas like Bysterveld Park that the water quality of Lake Michigan is as good as it is.
It isn’t as if these small parks are without beauty, it’s there but on a small-scale, and you have to look for it. It doesn’t overwhelm you like Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone do, but it’s there. In the wildflowers blooming.
The birds that call the area home.
The small mammals.
Did I mention the wildflowers?
Yes, the beauty is there, if you take the time to look for it. But the beauty doesn’t end there, it is just the beginning, for as I have pointed out, what starts in these small wetlands eventually ends up here.
The beauty doesn’t really end at Lake Michigan either, for there is an intangible beauty to these small parks as well. Many of our larger, better known parks are over crowded, some get so full there’s no place park. The smaller parks relieve some of the pressure on the crowded parks, and give people a place to go where they can away from it all.
I was at Bysterveld Park on July 3rd, the middle of the long 4th of July weekend, and there were only a couple of families there in the park, enjoying a beautiful Michigan summer day. They didn’t have to fight for a parking spot, or a picnic table, their kids didn’t have to wait in line to use the playground equipment, and it was quiet and peaceful in the park, which is why some of us avoid the crowded parks in the first place.
I’ll admit I would have preferred to have been up north this weekend, but on the other hand, it was nice not having to fight the crush of holiday traffic all the way there, and all the way back home again.
Some would argue that since some of these smaller parks don’t get many visitors that we have enough parks as it is and shouldn’t be adding more. I would say just the opposite. We need more of these small parks, not only for the environmental good they accomplish, but also to relieve the pressure on our larger parks, and to cut down on holiday traffic. What we really need is an attitude change in the users of this State’s parks, myself included.
I have already begun to spend more time in the local parks nearest to me. Part of that is because of my job. As a truck driver, I drive about 350 miles a day, every day, and that’s down from the 400 to 500 miles a day I drove when I worked as an over the road driver. By the time the weekend comes around, I don’t feel like driving any more than I have to. I also feel it is the responsible thing to do environmentally, cutting down on driving when ever I can. I know that with gas close to $4 a gallon, my wallet likes that idea as well.
Driving less and buying less gas is my way of thumbing my nose at the big oil companies, who jerk us around like puppy dogs on the end of a leash. I was planning on going up north this weekend, until gas jumped 35 cents a gallon for no other reason than it’s the long holiday weekend, and many people will be travelling. Not me, I’ll stay close to home until the price of gas falls back down, then I’ll go up north for a weekend, I’m not going to let Big Oil gouge me if I can help it. I know I am only one person, but if more people would do the same thing, then maybe we could cut the leash that Big Oil jerks us around on, and I’m all for that.
It goes right along with the buy local movement, shopping at locally owned businesses, and buying products that are locally manufactured or grown. I’ve always done that, but now, I recreate locally, whenever I can. Maybe I should start a new movement based on that idea.
I do know that I have discovered many local small parks that are very pleasant places to spend an afternoon at, and I am finding more all the time. Since I hike not just for photography, but for exercise as well, I was worried about the short hiking paths at many of the smaller parks. No problem, I do them twice. When I finish going around them once, I turn right back around and do them in the other direction. You’d be surprised at how much you miss the first time around, and going the other way around changes your view most of the time. That way, when I hike a park such as Bysterveld that only has two miles of trails, I hike four miles by doing the same paths twice.
I’ll continue to visit the larger, more wilderness areas like the Pigeon River Country, but not as often, for I am finding that many of these smaller parks are pretty cool as well. They aren’t like being in a wilderness area, but they do have a charm all their own, and are worth checking out. You may be surprised at what you find, I know I am. For nature is nature, where ever you find it, and that’s what I am really looking for in the first place. For as my uncle John B wold say….
Thank you uncle John…..
And aunt Josie too…