Donation helps expansion to Belding’s Lightning Bend Nature Preserve

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 10:18 am on Thursday, September 06, 2012

Members of Belding City Council, the Belding Recreation Board, other city employees and Belding residents gather in celebration of an additional 38 acres to the Lightning Bend Nature Preserve Wednesday evening at the intersection of Morton and Gooding streets in Belding. — Daily News/Cory Smith

BELDING — After two and a half years of evaluating land, applying for a grant through the Department of Natural Resource and signing many forms of paperwork, Lightning Bend Nature Preserve in Belding just got a lot bigger.

An additional 38 acres of land has been added to the city nature preserve after Gerard Geelhoed of Grand Rapids decided he wanted to donate his land to the city of Belding after purchasing it more than 20 years ago as an investment.

Thanks to Geelhoed’s generosity, the addition to the nature preserve came at virtually no cost to the city, said City Manager Randy DeBruine

“The (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) grant paid for 75 percent of the acquisition, the closing cost (of the sale) and the remaining 25 percent was paid for by Mr. Geelhoed himself, so the city had no costs, except for the grant application,” DeBruine said.

According to DeBruine, the total sale of the property, which lies south of Merrick Street in the far eastern portion of the city limits, to the city, was $250,000. The DNR grant, which the city successfully applied for, covered $190,000 of the sale, with the remaining $62,000 paid for by Geelhoed himself.

Geelhoed said he was proud to be able to donate the land to the city, where he felt it belonged as opposed to facing potential to be purchased by a potential land developer.

“I’m glad (the city) ended up with the land,” Geelhoed said. “I just thought it wasn’t in my interest to give (the city) an easement (on the property) and let the property go to some developer.”

Belding City Manager Randy DeBruine explains future plans for the newly acquired 38-acre expansion to the Lightning Bend Nature Preserve Wednesday evening, including a potential trail to connect the nature preserve to Belding’s downtown bike trails via a new riverside trail.

Geelhoed said he preferred that the land remain a nature preserve, which is now possible with it becoming an extension of Lightning Bend Nature Preserve.

“They’ve been talking about putting in a bike path for 20 years,” he said. “I think that once they get the whole bike path in, there’s a lot of people that are going to come through here and say ‘I like this town’ and hopefully they will move here. That’s what they need here, people moving in.”

Belding Recreation Board Chairman Michael Hamp said the acquisition of the new land is “a proud moment for the city of Belding.”

“Once this is all said and done, it now gives the recreation board and city manager new directives to push for more money for trails so we can connect Lighting Bend to our trial system downtown,” Hamp said. “That’s a part of our recreation plan. It’s a big step for us and it’s something we’ve wanted a long time.”

For city Councilwoman Andrea Belding, the new addition to the nature preserve is a chance to highlight “another half-mile of scenic riverfront that we have here in Belding.”

“That’s something that we’re very proud of,” she added. “This was a true effort to make Lighting Bend Nature Preserve a more substantial part of our park system. This parcel is a magnificent piece that stretches along the river and will allow residents access to a park that sometimes seems forgotten and quite simply, out of the way for some of our residents.”

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