Oshtemo Township plans 35-acre land purchase to open the Fruit Belt Trail to the public
Oshtemo Township has 122 acres of land dedicated to parks and recreation. This includes Flesher Field Park, Oshtemo Township Park, Drake Farmstead Park, and Grange Hall and Playground.
Oshtemo Township will purchase 35 acres of land to create more outdoor, recreational opportunities. This purchase is funded by a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.
The two-mile Fruit Belt Trail, getting its name from the former rail line that ran from Kalamazoo to South Haven at the beginning of the 20th Century, runs through the property in question. The Fruit Belt trail is not yet in the township’s possession, and hasn’t begun its career as an official walking trail, but many feet had already worn a footpath through the woods long before early plans to purchase the land began taking shape in 2011.
Map of Fruit Belt Trail
“The trail had been used informally by neighbors for many years. The township had received many calls in the past of people asking if they could walk on the trail,” said Parks Director Karen High.
Despite being owned by Ameritech AT&T, not the township, many residents took to the trail for strolls through the woods. A local cross country team even used the trail often for practice. The Fruit Belt trail did not yet have official trail markers, or even a name, but it was already well used in the community.
The land is located next to Oshtemo’s 24-acre Flesher Field Park; equipped with picnic seating, playground equipment, and wiffle ball courts, but no hiking options until now. The purchase will expand Flesher Field Park, and add amenities for hiking and cross country skiing.
“Now you can go to Flesher Park and take a nice long hike, then finish up with kids playing on the playground,” said High.
Oshtemo Township was informed they will receive $58,000 to buy the land, but it will be some time before they have the grant funds at their disposal. Grant allocations awarded by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board must be approved by the Michigan legislature and signed into law by the governor. Karen High estimates that the purchase will not go through until December 2021.
After the purchase is complete, trail markers, road signs, and privacy fences for adjacent property owners will be installed before the trail is officially open to the public. Later down the line, High hopes to receive grant funds to widen the trail and put down a crush-stone path. Ameritech AT&T will continue to manage a telecommunications facility on the property after purchase.
Currently the trail spans two miles, but there are plans to expand it through Texas Township and towards Mattawan.
Map of Kal-Haven (upper) and Van Buren (lower) trails.
For a while, there has been talk of connecting the Van Buren and Kal-Haven trails to create one large loop. The Kal-Haven trail travels from South Haven to Kalamazoo in a trail that arches northward; The Van Buren trail extends 14 miles from South Haven to Hartford, and also follows the former Fruit Belt Line. If the trail continued eastward, it would eventually connect with Oshtemo's portion of the Fruit Belt Trail.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to think maybe we could connect the whole trail,” High said.
This, however, is a long-term project that High imagines would be completed 20-30 years down the road.
Oshtemo invests in its parks, the environment and nonmotorized facilities
Oshtemo Township currently has 122 acres of land dedicated to parks and recreation. This includes Flesher Field Park, Oshtemo Township Park, Drake Farmstead Park, and Grange Hall and Playground.
“Parks are a real point of pride for folks in Oshtemo,” said High.
Oshtemo Township completed their GO! Green Oshtemo Plan in 2019 to outline future goals for parks and recreation, non motorized facilities and conservation of open spaces. It is the first of its kind created by the township.
Part of this plan includes creating four neighborhood parks where Oshtemo has the greatest population density, meaning the urban eastside of the township. The highest priority park location is by the intersection of Drake Road and KL Ave.
Conceptual Framework Map, showing future plans for parks and nonmotorized facilities. Taken from the Go! Green Oshtemo Plan
Another priority is the expansion of nonmotorized facilities, like paths and sidewalks intended for bikers and pedestrians. The goal of these nonmotorized facilities is to increase connectivity between rural and urban areas. The eastside of Oshtemo is fairly developed, with busy roadways and plenty of shopping and eating options. The westside of Oshtemo, past US 131, is very rural with rolling country roads.
“We are trying to use the sidewalks and trails to connect people because the folks in the more urban areas want to get out into the more rural areas and visa versa,” said High.
The township has already built sidewalks and walking paths along Drake and Stadium Drive, and is planning to add more.