Sometimes, Everybody Wins
In spring 2024, SWMLC purchased the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kalamazoo’s former camp in Barry County with the help of several conservation donors, then transferred the property to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to become part of the Barry State Game Area.

It’s a land protection triple-play that benefits everyone involved – including nature!

The 200-acre Boys and Girls Clubs of Kalamazoo (BGCK) camp property has long been recognized as one of the most important parcels to protect in the Glass Creek Watershed because it includes 1.3 miles of frontage on cold-water Glass and Podunk Creeks, and large, high-quality wetlands. “Conservation of the BGCK Camp fills in a critical puzzle piece within the Barry County Biodiversity Hub (as identified in SWMLC’s Strategic Land Conservation Plan) and within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Barry State Game Area (SGA) project boundary,” stated Kaleigh Winkler, SWMLC Land Protection Director. SWMLC will continue to protect the property’s ecological values through a conservation easement.

Just off Erway Road, a two-track leading into a shady beech-maple forest signaled summer camp adventures ahead for generations of excited kids. The drive crosses Glass Creek over a rustic bridge, then enters a grassy space with a large meeting house, sleepover cabins, ballcourts, swimming pool, and a huge walnut tree. Podunk Creek flows past the edge of this area, after meandering through acres of BGCK wetland and forest, as well as SWMLC’s 90-acre Freese Preserve just to the south. The BGCK property also shares its northern border with Michigan Audubon’s 108-acre Warner Sanctuary and its western border with the 17,000-acre Barry SGA, connecting these already-protected lands and expanding vital habitat for many species of animals and plants in the Glass Creek Watershed.

Glass Creek from the bridge crossing the drive into the Boys & Girls Club Camp
Regional Conservation Map of the areas near the Boys & Girls Club of Kalamazoo's former camp.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Kalamazoo is a nonprofit organization that has been providing youth with life-enhancing experiences for more than 70 years, and their former summer camp offered a completely free, fun place for city kids to soak up nature’s benefits. But it was also far away from the Kalamazoo headquarters, making transportation and upkeep difficult and expensive. After many years of discussion, and with reluctance, the BGCK board decided to sell their beloved property, knowing the proceeds would support their plan to build a new facility in Kalamazoo. Upon learning that the property was going on the market, SWMLC President and Executive Director Mike Larson reached out to BGCK’s Chief Executive Officer, Matt Lynn.

Both SWMLC and the DNR were intent on seeing the ecologically important property protected – but the DNR’s process for purchasing property through its regular funding channels was too lengthy to be a viable option. Thankfully, SWMLC was able to step in and purchase the property with generous financial support from our conservation partners, Susan Houseman, Curtis Hall, and Tyden Ventures. Their assistance was essential. Tom Groos of Tyden Ventures reflected, “The transaction to add the BGCK property to the Barry SGA is a great example of SWMLC’s long term, determined approach to enlarging and protecting large, contiguous, ecologically sensitive areas. It’s very satisfying to see it all come together to protect this jewel forever.” Susan Houseman added, “We have long enjoyed the beautiful and pristine environment of the Barry SGA and are thrilled that SWMLC has helped expand it through the purchase of the BGCK and forever protect its important wetlands habitat.”

Podunk Creek, which flows through SWMLC's 90-acre Freese Preserve before entering the BGCK Camp property
Healthy, mature forests populate the camp's upland areas.
The big beautiful walnut tree under which generations of campers must have played.
Camp memories . . . the entrance sign.

The property’s protection truly is a triple-win. BGCK’s Matt Lynn commented, “We’re so excited. This is a great opportunity for SWMLC to fulfill its mission while we can also realize ours of helping kids reach their full potential by growing and developing the whole person. We’re just very thankful that it worked out the way it did. The property will keep its natural beauty and people will continue to enjoy it as public land.”

Mission accomplished! Boys & Girls Club of Kalamazoo’s Chief Executive Officer, Matt Lynn seals the deal with SWMLC's President & Executive Director, Mike Larson.
The camp property includes a huge, high-quality wetland area near clean Glass Creek.

This project exemplifies the positive way that SWMLC and the DNR work together to connect healthy habitats and enrich biodiversity. “The addition of the property not only protects vital wetland ecosystems but also strengthens our commitment to conserving Michigan’s natural resources for future generations,” observed Mark Mills, Regional Supervisor for the Michigan DNR Wildlife Division. In 2009, SWMLC, the DNR, and other Barry County conservation partners set an audacious goal to protect 10% more of the highest-quality habitat around the Barry SGA within ten years’ time. Though the timeline has gotten a little stretched, protecting the BGCK property puts us very near that 17,000-acre goal. SWMLC Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow was happy, “So close! We’ve increased the protected area within and adjacent to the Barry SGA by 9.4% . . . just another 100 acres will put us over the mark!

Drone shot of clean and beautiful Glass Creek.
Camp memories . . . the sign that stood outside the large meeting house building at the Boys & Girls Club of Kalamazoo's camp.
The two-track as it leaves the camp compound.

Barry County is not the only part of southwest Michigan where SWMLC and the DNR have worked together for nature’s sake. Earlier this year, the two teamed up to conserve the new Paw Paw River State Game Area in Van Buren County and in 2021, SWMLC assisted the DNR in protecting the 800-acre former Andrews University property on the St. Joseph River to create the new Berrien State Game Area.

“We’re so happy that we were able to protect this important property with the generous assistance of our conservation partners, and delighted that it will be conserved and carefully stewarded over the long-term by the DNR.”

Mike Larson

President & Executive Director, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

SWMLC is very fortunate to have so many conservation partners that are as passionate about protecting nature and connecting people to it as we are.

When we bring strong conservation partners together, everybody wins!

YOUR support makes this work possible. As a SWMLC supporter, your desire to conserve special, natural places in Michigan has protected over 19,000 acres since 1991. Together, we are making a difference.
Drone photos: Keto Gyekis     |     Other photos: Amelia Hansen & Mitch Lettow     |     Map: Mitch Lettow     |     Story: Miko Dargitz & Amelia Hansen