THREE OAKS — Rainy weather did not dampen the spirits of the family members friends of Chris Thompson who gathered on the afternoon of Sunday, June 9, at Lakeside Cabins Resort on Warren Woods Road to take part in the dedication ceremony organized by Chikaming Open Lands (COL) for its latest land acquisition, the 49-acre Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve.
The property that features open fields, woodland, and frontage on the Galien River has been named for Thompson, the former Executive Director of COL who passed away unexpectedly on June 3, 2016.
Current COL Executive Director Ryan Postema welcomed the attendees to the Lakeside Cabins Resort that borders the new preserve, said that soon after Thompson’s passing a plan formed to memorialize him and all he did for Chikaming Open Lands and the community.
“We knew we wanted to acquire and dedicate a property in Chris’s name, and this parcel was exactly what we were looking for; the kind of place he would have loved, and an area where people can connect with the land and have an enjoyable time recreating,” Postema said. “It is a significant addition to the corridor along the Galien River that includes Warren Woods and the Chikaming Township Park & Preserve.”
The property was acquired on Oct. 30, 2018, thanks to local members of the community and Thompson’s friends, family and colleagues in the conservation community who raised more than $236,000 toward the purchase price. In addition, COL was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Carls Foundation, and the remainder of the $550,000 purchase price was provided by COL using grant funds previously received from The Pokagon Fund.
Postema said that future plans for the property include a parking lot off Warren Woods Road and a native prairie restoration project involving the open field portion of the parcel.
Speaking about Thompson and how he touched and enhanced their lives was his widow Jen Thompson, the Development & Marketing Manager at COL.
“After Chris died I asked myself what I was going to do now, and I decided to return to COL to continue on with his work there,” she said. “I didn’t feel obligated, but it was just something I felt I really wanted to do.
“Chris felt strongly about conservation, and he felt the landscape in this area was so special that it needed to be preserved,” she continued. “He felt that everyone would benefit from that because nature is a great equalizer. When Chris cared about something he was ‘all in.’”
It was noted that since his death three years ago COL has been able to acquire eight new nature preserves, expand its outreach efforts, and establish the “Mighty Acorns” program that helps connect young students in the area to the great outdoors and the endless wonders of nature.
“I plan to spend lots of time here at this newest preserve with my dog Scout, and I feel this is a wonderful tribute to Chris and his legacy,” Thompson concluded.
Also speaking in tribute to Chris Thompson was his daughter, Margaret, who described her late father as “a very special person.”
She cited a long list of his many attributes that included passion, kindness, honesty, fairness, a strong work ethic, and an artistic spirit.
“Our memories tend to fade, but the feelings we have don’t,” Thompson commented. “During the past three years I’ve probably forgotten a lot, but I will never forget how I felt spending time in the presence of my father.
“He saw the world for what it was, and this preserve we’re dedicating is as beautiful as his heart and as big as his spirit,” she said. “His legacy will always live on in this land.”
One example of how Chris Thompson was able to touch lives and encourage others to nurture nature and the ripple effect that has had in the community could be seen in his relationship with Pat Fisher, the president of the Harbor Country Hikers.
Fisher got to know Thompson when he would volunteer for various COL Stewardship Workdays, and it didn’t take long before Thompson got a positive response from Fisher when he asked him to become a member of the Stewardship Committee.
While performing his duties as the executive director of COL, Thompson somehow found the energy to also give a generous amount of his time and talents as an energetic and innovative member of the Chikaming Township Park Board.
Previously, in his memory a tree was planted in his honor at the Park & Preserve, and his favorite hiking trail there was named after him.
Fittingly, despite the inclement weather, many attendees took a short tour of the Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve after leaving the indoor portion of the dedication ceremony so they could get a little glimpse of the lovely landscape that will forever be preserved in his name.