This summer, the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission plans to commence work to add another jewel to the crown of one its most scenic and beloved parks – Grand Ravines in Georgetown Township, just south of the Grand Valley State University Allendale Campus.
Through a significant gift to the Ottawa County Parks Foundation from an anonymous foundation, the Grand Ravines Tree House will be constructed just off the Idema Explorers Trail route.The Tree House, which will be located high above the edge of ravine that parallels the north boundary of the park, will be dedicated to Bea Aldrink Idema in recognition of her love for nature, education, and having fun. The north ravines property is deeply connected to Bea and her family.
“The Ottawa County Parks Foundation was established with the hope that we could help provide ‘the margin of excellence’ for our parks systems,” said Parks Foundation President, Bobbi Jones Sabine. “We are so thankful for this gift, which will make it possible to create an inspiring, enriching connection to nature and to these ravines.”
From the inception of the Ottawa County Parks Commission in 1987, the majestic ravines system that stretches from along the western bank of the Grand River from Ottawa Creek in Allendale Township to Willow Creek in Georgetown Township has been a priority for public access and preservation. Identified by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory as one of Ottawa County’s most significant natural features, the ravines are a geological wonder in an area that otherwise has limited terrain.
Following the acquisition of the north Grand Ravines property in 2011 and the completion of the Master Plan for the park in 2013, there has been an emphasis by Ottawa County Parks & Recreation on developing amenities which uniquely connect park users with the experience of the ravines. Through Parks Millage funding, state and federal grants, and the generosity of anonymous foundations and donors, several experiences have been created that provide special access to the beauty of the ravines system – these include:
• The Grand Ravines Lodge which sits atop a ravine crest and overlooks the Grand River and is available to be reserved for private events. Please note: this facility was temporarily closed for COVID; it will re-open for reservations on April 8, 2021.
• The Idema Explorers Trail which traverses the edge of a ravine and features a dramatic descent from the top of the ravine to the river (and will eventually connect to Grand Haven to the west and Grand Rapids to the east), named for a $2 million gift from the Bill & Bea Idema Foundation
• A Nature Overlook, dedicated to the brothers and sisters of the John and Anna Aldrink Family, which provides a full view of the forested north ravine
• The 275’ Grand Ravines Suspension Bridge, constructed with a generous donation from Bea Aldrink Idema and dedicated to Ray and Alma Statema, floats 70’ above a ravine bottom on the south side of the park and has become an iconic feature of the West Michigan’s many parks (even being recently featured in a Grand Rapids-themed coloring book)
In 2018, the Michigan Recreation and Park Association (mParks) recognized the special natural features and amenities at Grand Ravines and awarded Ottawa County Parks & Recreation the Park Design award for that year.
The Tree House complements these amenities and builds on them – the Tree House will stand 40’ above ravine edge where it starts to descend steeply to the creek bottom. To reach the Tree House, users will walk along a winding 100’ long boardwalk nestled among the towering trees. The enclosed Tree House will feature a rustic design with multiple overlook locations providing a unique tree-top perspective of the descending ravine.
The Tree House concept was first developed and proposed several years ago. “The Tree House design came from sketches sitting in the drawer of our Coordinator of Park Planning and Development, Curt TerHaar, that he first worked on in 2013,” said Ottawa County Parks Commission President Kelly Rice. “We are so appreciative of our donor and our Parks Foundation for allowing us to take a fanciful paper sketch from dream to reality. Through this generosity, future generations will have a unique and magical experience in the ravines.”
Engineering design on the Tree House is expected to commence in the Spring with construction hoped to begin later this year. As part of the project, expanded parking and supporting amenities will be added to the Grand Ravines Overlook parking area along the north entrance drive for Grand Ravines off 42nd Avenue.
Additionally, work continues on the Idema Explorers Trail both east and west of Grand Ravines. Updates on the status of several segments of the trail could be provided over the course of spring and summer.