William Rose

Sometimes we find we’re behind in our reading of some of our favorite publications. This is particularly true for me today. I clicked on several sites and wondered, what have I missed over the past few months. Click. There it was. An unusual story that gave me untold hope and excitement.

It wasn’t just because it had the word environment in it, trust me. It was because I felt overwhelmed. I felt overwhelmed not only because what I was reading about in terms of William Rose’s initiative and achievements, but because I think that the topic of the environment gets reduced by so many people into something akin to doing dishes with a stinky sponge.

You know when you’re tired and you think, ‘wow I just can’t wait to taste something amazing, but I don’t want to do the dishes, so I’m just going to have something less amazing out of the freezer.’ That just killed two birds with one stone and gave your taste buds and your joy of life less confidence that when it comes to choosing them over ‘getting by’ and falling prey to your efficient idea of how to spend the evening, they might as well figure enjoyment and appreciation aren’t part of the goal.

I know we are often trying to find the easiest and fastest way for our accomplishments. When do we have time to live fully, however we define that! Fulfilling moments…Simplicity…

Getting rid of the stinky sponge is more important than all of the pleasant moments that led to the sponge being used too many times to count, minus all the laughs and attempts at making something delicious, or lost by distraction, caused burned sauces. Of course, dinner is only about getting rid of the stinky sponge. Similarly, the environment is only about getting rid of the reusable bag. Getting rid of the reusable bag is more important than all the ingredients you brought home to make that dinner that took too much time, minus all the ways that you found out that the refrigerator needed to be cleaned again from spilled soup and ripening fruit. Of course, the environment is only about the reusable bag.

Of course, William Rose is just another environmentalist who is overly concerned about the environment. How many reusable bags does he have? You know when you’re tired and you think, ‘wow I just can’t wait to sit outside and enjoy the birds chirping and maybe take a stroll to the creek and stick my toe in there, but I don’t want to do the environment thing, so I’m just going to turn on National Geographics.’ That just gave your sense of wonder about the world around you less confidence that you feel all that connected to that worrisome environment. That pile of reusable bags has taken up an entire drawer now! Outrageous!

Although we each get motivated by various things, not everyone wants to go clean a creek or take first steps to get a greenway built in the area near their homes. It’s ripe to be quite a scavenger hunt with a bunch of people wondering what is it to you anyway and why do you want to put in something that is going to feel like cleaning dirty dishes. It’s just a stinky sponge, I mean greenway. In fact, I just read about a land preservation group that calls it ‘nature deficit disorder’ and wonders who will care about natural resources for the benefit of all in the future.

(The people with small or no back yards?)

William Rose decided that he didn’t want a stinky sponge in his neighborhood, so he could get busy living.

Here’s what Rose will celebrate. I’m celebrating his ability to take a concern and run with it and make something absolutely amazing out of his concern, which many of us, including me, would find daunting. That’s what makes it amazing. He really got a bee in his bonnet and took action. This is what he did. This is why this project wants to recognize him and his contributions to the world.

In 2005, as the President and CEO of the conservation stewardship group Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC), he decided that there was no right side or wrong side of the tracks. He came up with the Urban Nature Park project. An urban nature park is a natural space found in the city so that residents have a place to relax and explore in nature. Sarah Reding, the vice president of KNC, explained that the idea for the urban park came in 2005, when Bill and other colleagues discussed wanting to provide a green space for the inner city. He believed that nature is for everyone to enjoy.

The area was a brownfield site that was an industrial space used as a railroad yard. If you’re not familiar with what a brownfield site is, one could see it as the dirty old sponge left behind by an industry that did business and all it left behind was not particularly pleasant. A brownfield is a property, where the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant from a previous industrial leaser makes any expansion, redevelopment, or reuse complicated. They left the nasty sponge and you didn’t get to feast on their amazing products.

They wanted to revitalize the Portage Creek and Kalamazoo River areas after years of neglect and contamination kept most people away.

They got busy and brought other organizations, city planners, and for-profits together to build an urban park. The benefits of green space have been studied and written about and KNC realized that nature helps people not only heal, but find calm, and do better in life. Rose approached the Arkus Foundation and got initial funding in 2005. The project has been mostly privately funded.

“There was a lot of industrial material to remove,” Reding said. “Cement pieces, metal, railroad ties, telephone poles. Much of it was done by hand, but much of it also by machinery, taking away all the garbage. We tested and removed the soil, graded it, then put in topsoil.”

They worked with the EPA to replant and restore the 4-acre wetlands areas. They hope to get a generation of kids to start enjoying the outdoors. Paper mills dumped waste into the Kalamazoo River for decades leaving behind waste containing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Rose described that they found huge concrete from railroad ties, telephone poles, garbage, and lots of junk, signifying that this was a dumping site.

In 2010, Keep Michigan Beautiful Inc. awarded the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Urban Nature Park a statewide award for its achievement.

“If you can picture a beautiful wetland, a pretty bridge right here where you can sit on a bench, watch the stream. …the stream most of the time runs clear and clean — it’s actually a beautiful stream,” Rose said.

By re-imagining public spaces, Rose envisioned and then took action to develop a much rosier scene than leaving behind a dirty sponge.

Sources: Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave; Children and Nature Network; Kalamazoo County Land Bank; Kalamazoo Gazette; Michigan Radio; YouTube; Kzoo Connect



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