Faced with possibility of closure, Dowagiac nonprofit asks for community support

DOWAGIAC — A Dowagiac nonprofit is asking the community for support after learning it is at risk of being shut down.

Dawn East and Heather Matthews, of Hidden Acres Safe Haven, 50582 Pleasant St., Dowagiac, are fighting to keep the popular livestock shelter afloat after a visit from the Silver Creek Township Building and Zoning administrator determined that the facility has more animals than the traditional zoning laws allow.

East and Matthews will appeal to the zoning board, and the township recommended that they should apply for a variance. If the appeal is lost, the animals will be removed from the property, and Hidden Acres will cease to exist.

“We’ve been here for five years and have been completely transparent,” East said. “Our animals are on Facebook constantly. People take pictures, and they’re all over the Sister Lakes Facebook page. All of the people on the board know what we’re about and what we do.”

According to East, the visit from the building and zoning administration was prompted by a complaint.

“We’re zoned for agriculture,” East said. “We’re just under five acres, and I think that may be the issue. Had there been no complaint, I don’t think they would have cared.”

The Silver Creek Township representatives declined to comment pending legal counsel.

Hidden Acres has provided homes for unwanted and special needs livestock since opening in 2017. The shelter works closely with local 4-H organizations and hosts popular events including goat yoga and Trunk or Treat.

The zoning news came as a shock to East and Matthews, who believe the loss of the shelter would be a major blow to the community, which has relied on the shelter for livestock assistance, spay and neuter clinics for cats, cat adoptions as well as educational programming.

“We’re devastated by this,” Matthews said. “We have worked so hard to get where we’re at and help our community get something for kids and all the volunteers we have come out here.”

“We have special needs children that come out here for a safe space to interact with farm animals,” East added. “All of the field trips we do for schools pre-COVID, all of the volunteering and livestock care, all of those things will be gone and they won’t be replaced. There’s nothing else like this. We’ve really tried to help and that’s really what it’s about. We’re trying to do something good for Dowagiac and we get a slap in the face.”

While the thought of closing has been tough to deal with, East and Matthews have been overwhelmed with support from the community. Hidden Acres has already received the $1,000 necessary to file an appeal from concerned community members.

“We’re so fortunate to have a supportive community like this,” Matthews said. “What is unfortunate is that those funds that have to go toward this appeal could have gone toward vet bills and things like that. We could buy four tons of feed for our animals with $1,000.”

East and Matthews are asking the community to write letters in support of Hidden Acres to Silver Creek Township and to attend the appeal meeting when the date and time are announced.

“I think the biggest thing for me is all of the things that we do for children and adults out here will be gone if this doesn’t pass,” East said. “We would like everyone who can to show up to that meeting, even if they have to stand outside. We have so many supporters who donate time and money because this is a rural community. We are a farming town.”

Readers looking to donate can do so via PayPal at the address hiddenacreshobbyfarm@yahoo.com or by using Messenger Pay on the Messenger app.

Hidden acres asks that letters of support be made out to Silver Creek Township Clerk Lorri Behnke, P.O. Box 464, Dowagiac, MI, 49047. Emails can be sent to Behnke at silvercreek@sisterlakescable.com using the subject “Hidden Acres”. Readers looking to email are asked to copy Hidden Acres on the email at hiddenacreshobbyfarm@yahoo.com.

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