Major Gift for Idema Explorers Camp at Ottawa Sands

from the Ottawa County Parks Foundation

Ottawa County Parks Foundation announces receipt of major gift which will help the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission build the “Idema Explorers Camp” and related amenities at Ottawa Sands County Parks, adding unique overnight accommodations to the Grand River Greenway and 2,479-acre  corridor of connected dune lands.
Another grant will assist with implementation of ecological enhancements

Landmark Gift

“The Bill and Bea Idema Foundation has been a great supporter of connecting people with the natural world throughout West Michigan, including major support for the Idema Explorers Trail,” said Bobbi Jones Sabine, Ottawa County Parks Foundation President. “This is a truly transformational gift which will open Ottawa Sands to people of all abilities; It will create a whole new kind of experience along the Grand River Greenway, as well as allow for deeper exploration of the connected duneland corridor.”

With the assistance of these major philanthropic gifts through the Ottawa County Parks Foundation, Ottawa County Parks & Recreation has initiated a $5.2-million effort to implement several components of the Ottawa Sands Master Plan; its centerpiece being the unique campground – certain to become a major attraction along the Grand River Greenway.

Ottawa Sands Master Plan

“The acquisition of the 345-acre Ottawa Sands County Park in 2019 was a whirlwind process made possible only through the coordinated efforts of many residents, donors, and stakeholders. Our opportunity to purchase the $11.2 million sand mining site quickly emerged in the latter half of 2017 and was entirely unanticipated,” said Kelly Rice, Parks Commission President.

The property was the most recent addition to 2,479 acres of continuous public duneland in Northwest Ottawa County and was made possible through an unprecedented “off-cycle” grant application to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. This key acquisition required a crucial donation of value from the previous landowner, $8 million in grant funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, a loan from The Conservation Fund, and a key partnership with Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

Since this acquisition was unanticipated, funding from the current Parks Millage (which extends through 2027) to develop the site is very limited. However, the 2020 Ottawa Sands Master Plan immediately generated excitement and interest upon its completion. The Master Plan proposed site improvements and ecological restoration, reclamation and enhancements of $23.3 million to the recently decommissioned sand mine over several phases. The improvements include:

  • Constructed dunal wet prairie and marsh, improving wildlife habitat
  • A 1.6-mile paved loop around the 80-acre inland lake
  • Day-use parking area near the current entrance
  • Outfitted camping experience for the Grand River with an accessible kayak launch
  • A beach on the lake
  • Dune overlook tower with views of Lake Michigan
  • Riverfront recreational area with docks

“It is important to note that we intentionally designed the Master Plan to have a light footprint while providing improved accessibility to the site’s most significant features. In fact, over 92% of the site is scheduled for ecological improvement through restoration and proper management, so the cherished experience of Ottawa Sands will remain intact,” said Parks Director Jason Shamblin. “In many cases, even the proposed developed areas will reclaim or enhance the site through sensitive design of facilities and infrastructure.”


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