Partnerships Grow Benefits

Martin Harris has something extra to look forward to when he bikes the Idema Explorers Trail this spring. Harris was part of a team of Herman Miller employees who this fall planted some 2,500 wildflowers and native grasses to create a Monarch Waystation at the M-231 trailhead. Come spring, the blooms and butterflies should be colorful.

The plantings were a continuation of the partnership between the Ottawa County Parks Foundation and Herman Miller Cares through their support of  a section of the 36-mile Idema Explorers Trail that will connect Grand Rapids to Grand Haven through the Grand River Greenway.

Harris, an avid biker, skier and parks user, was delighted to help. “We’re excited to be able to go back in the spring and see what we helped create flourish,” he said.

Martin Harris & Herman Miller colleagues planting pollinators along the Idema Explorers Trail

The plantings create critical habitat for migrating butterflies, and Herman Miller Cares support will help construct a two-mile section of trail along Green Street and 128th Avenue in Robinson Township.

“Corporate partnerships are a great opportunity for employees of companies to get involved in the local community,” said Angela Miller-Niarhos, manager of the Ottawa County Parks Foundation. That independent non-profit supports the parks, with a current focus on the Grand River Greenway.

Partnerships’ benefits extend beyond plantings and donations.

“Oftentimes, it can help with employee retention,” Miller-Niarhos pointed out. “A lot of employees nowadays are looking to work for a company that is socially responsible, so getting involved in a project like the Greenway is a way to tell employees that you care about the community they live in and are a part of.”

Beyond that, she added, “When you volunteer for something, you buy into it.” Employees and families who are introduced to the parks are more likely to use them, getting physical and mental health benefits.   

“The trail is going to offer so many opportunities – not just for hiking, but for people who want to bike or run or paddle,” Miller-Niarhos said.

Harris, a Product Development Engineer and a Co-lead of Herman Miller’s Sustainability Resource Team, is one of those people. He hasn’t quite yet visited every county park, but he’s working on it. 

When Harris moved to Holland in 2016, he appreciated the quality of Ottawa County Parks. “It’s quite astounding, the amount of diversity we have in the parks, and how well thought out and planned the parks are. And the amount of natural spaces that have been preserved is quite impressive.”

As a person who uses the parks “all the time,” Harris was glad to get fellow employees involved.

Martin & Abby Harris were married at North Beach Park in Ferrsyburg

“There’s really no convincing we have to do. It fits perfectly in line with Herman Miller corporate values and the values of just about everybody I talk to. It’s something we’re fortunate to be part of,” he said. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the county parks, and it’s never been enough.”

Enhancing park use is the Parks Foundation mission.

“Giving everyone access to the scenic spaces and connected trails along the Grand River Greenway will improve the quality of life for current and future West Michigan residents,” said Bobbi Jones Sabine, president of the Parks Foundation.

“We know that trails and outdoor recreation benefit not only health but the local economy as well. We believe that the Greenway will give our homegrown companies an edge in attracting future employees who are excited about living, working, and playing in this great community.”

Diane Bunse, Herman Miller Corporate Sustainability Specialist, agrees. “Anything that can help our community can only help the company, and if people who work here can feel good about working here, that word gets out.”

Herman Miller’s partnership involved collaborative support from Herman Miller Cares and the  Sustainability Resource Team.

“Being a good steward of the earth’s resources was established as part of our culture by our founder, D.J. DePree, in 1953,” Bunse pointed out. “He said Herman Miller will be a good corporate neighbor by being a good steward of the environment.” This partnership illustrates  that commitment.

Ultimately, the Greenway will connect 14 Ottawa County Park properties totaling more than 2,700 acres. Along with the Idema Explorers Trail, the Greenway will include a Grand River Heritage Water Trail and an Historic River Road.

The Parks Foundation’s Grand River Greenway Campaign is $1.1 million from completion and seeking more support and partnerships. It also is growing its general fund to support future development.

“As a fairly new organization, we want to be sure we’re in a position to help if the opportunity comes along,” Miller-Niarhos said. “Our goal is to support the parks in their endeavors and make sure the parks don’t miss out on opportunities to strengthen our communities.”

This story was featured in the Holland Sentinel on Sunday, March 1, 2020