Cass County conservation organizations to discuss possible collaboration

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cass County is home to an abundance of lakes, parks and other sources of natural beauty — and just as many citizens, agencies and organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving them.

This week, representatives with many of these conservation entities will sit down and try to get on the same page when it comes to the protection and growth of the county’s natural assets.

On Friday, the county will host a brainstorming session focused on increasing collaborative efforts between the area’s nature-focused organizations at the Cass County COA headquarters in Cassopolis. Representatives from more than two dozen organizations will be there, including:

• The Cass County Michigan State University Extension office

• Cass County 4-H

• Cass County Pheasants Forever

• Michigan Department of Natural Resources

• The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi

• Southwestern Michigan College

• Southwest Michigan Planning Commission

• The City of Elkhart

• Kinexus

• Midwest Energy

• Cass County Road Commission

• Farm Bureau

“We have some groups you wouldn’t think would be part of a conservation effort, but they touch on issues that involve the environment,” said Bernie Williamson, the chairperson of the Cass County Board of Commissioners and one of the architect’s of Friday’s symposium. “It’s a chance to see where our paths cross and how we can work cooperatively in these areas.”

Williamson and fellow Commissioner Dixie Ann File have worked together for nearly a year to bring these entities to the same table. The two came up with the idea while discussing the possibility of planting wildflowers along county roadsides. As ideas on how to come up with additional beautification projects continued to grow, the leaders decided to try and bring together other conservation-centric entities to discuss how they could all work with one another to improve the Cass County environment, Williamson said.

Despite sharing similar goals, many of these local entities often work on their own to accomplish their objectives, in spite of a lack of manpower or funding, Williamson said.

“The beauty of our county is an economic benefit, but we aren’t working together to enhance that,” she said.

Through Friday’s meeting, the commissioner hopes that participants will develop a framework for future cooperation between conservation organizations. With many state and federal grant dollars going exclusively toward collaborative efforts, these entities will not only be able to share labor and resources but could also stand to gain necessary funding for future projects.

County citizens could also benefit from new partnerships developed from Friday’s meeting, through planting of additional flowers or improvements to area parks, Williamson said.

“It may be blue sky type of thing, but there’s no negative in doing it,” Williamson said.