Thanks to Dick and Donn Van Wieren and a host of fellow volunteers, the 80-site Calhoun Campground in Beaverton, Mich., is back open for business.
The retired couple lives in their mobile home in the city park between the months of May and September, when Calhoun Park is open for campers. Between camping seasons, the couple moves back to their home in Florida.
An Independence Day celebration (held on July 7) was a first at Calhoun Park, which reopened on May 15. It had been closed in 2011 due to financial issues, the Midland Daily News reported.
“When we went to City Hall, they told me the park had lost a lot of money the season before — about $18,000,” Donna said. “I asked for some of the budget reports and found that so much of it has been spent on city union workers doing the mowing out here and they had no one looking after the place to make sure people were taken care of.”
Donna and Dick signed a contract with the city, which removed any financial responsibility from the city in order to reopen the park under their care.
“We knew we were jumping off the edge of a cliff, but if we rejected that clause in the contract, we knew they’d say no,” Donna said. “So we took a chance and we did encounter some well problems and some septic problems and some of the city guys did help us fix those on their own time.”
With the help of 32 volunteers, the Van Wierens were able to restore the park in a month’s time, opening it to campers in May.
“Word spread that we were opening it and needed help and people just called and asked if they could come out and help,” Donna said. “The Lions Club and Boy Scouts painted, and lots of friends and neighbors came in with their mowers and tree trimmers to get the park back in shape.”
Lions Club members also built a pavilion for the park and helped the Van Weirens financially in order to get the park ready to be opened.
“We have a wonderful businessman’s association and a great Lions Club and thank God for them,” Donna said. “You just can’t beat some of the things they’ve done out here.”
While one volunteer donated a new trimmer to the park, another applied for a $5,000 grant that bought Calhoun Park its own mower, cutting down on costs to maintain the park.
“A city park isn’t supposed to make money anyway, but it should be there for the people and should pay for itself,” Donna said. “We wanted to show the city that the park could run and take care of itself.”
The 80-acre city park sits along the river and is divided into campgrounds, three baseball diamonds, a soccer field, playground and three wooded trails. Calhoun Park offers fishing, electricity, hot showers, a sanitation station, a playground and handicap accessibility.
Most weekends the park sees at least half of its 58 sites full and on weekdays it averages 10-12 sites being used, according to Donna. Calhoun Park also provides three seasonal sites.
“Oftentimes people come to stay one night and end up staying two or three because they’re enjoying it,” she said. “ We’ve been pretty full, not so much on a daily basis, but on weekends we’ve done quite well.”
One close friend of Dick’s was Garmon Calhoun.
“He was a good friend and we were old golf partners,” Dick said. “He was a man who was straightforward with what was on his mind and I had a lot of respect for him. He treated me like he was my big brother.”
Calhoun convinced the previous owner of the park property to sell it to the city and, upon reaching a deal, the park was named in honor of him.
Today, the Van Wierens volunteer to keep the park open in memory of their good friend and to give back to a city that once took them in and treated them like family.
“We’re in our 70s and retired, but because we love Beaverton like we do, we decided to stay here (at the park) 24 hours a day and we’ve done that,” Donna said. “It’s a lovely park and you can feel like you’re a long ways from home, even if you’re not.”