Berrien County announces Madeline Bertrand County Park expansion

Published 1:51 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

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BERRIEN COUNTY — Berrien County has completed the purchase of land in Niles Township adjacent to Madeline Bertrand County Park, expanding the park by 32 additional acres. 

In summer 2021, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners approved the acceptance of a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant toward the purchase of this property. The final agreed sale price was $425,000, with $300,000 coming from the MNRTF grant and the remaining funds coming from Berrien County Parks Department budget. The Helmen/Simpson family donated $275,000 in land value to make this purchase possible.

The Helmen/Simpson family acquired the property in 1937, naming it Possum Poke. The previous owners share fond memories of going to Possum Poke as children and getting into adventures, wading in the creek, exploring nature, tobogganing in the winter, fishing and taking boat trips down the St. Joseph River. They remember their Grandpa working in his beautiful garden and the smell of Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies. 

Many large family gatherings and cookouts occurred at Possum Poke, providing a lifetime of memories for the family.

“This property has been in our family for over 85 years. It was there that my grandfather instilled in us all a deep appreciation for nature and the beauty of the outdoors”, says David Helmen, one of the previous owners.

County Park Staff will take some time to prepare the property and plan for recreational opportunities before it is open to the public. Ideas that have been discussed for the additional park acreage stem from the current County Park Master Plan and include expanded hiking and biking trails through the pine and hardwood forests; added cross country ski opportunities with incredible views of the St. Joseph River; expansion of the regionally revered Disc Golf course; access to a variety of terrain for Naturalist-lead educational groups; and potential for access to the St. Joseph River for kayaks and canoes.    

The family members wanted to do something special with Possum Poke that would allow it to be brought back to its glory days and provide a place where the family and the public could enjoy its natural beauty forever.  “By working with Berrien County Parks, we believe we achieved our goal and that our grandparents would forever give their wholehearted blessing”, says Mr. Helmen. 

“The Parks Commission thanks the family for their large in-kind donation allowing the County to afford the property. They do appreciate the value of nature and the out-of-doors. The acreage and river frontage will give our citizens more recreational activities down the road. The possibility of expanding the number of disc golf holes would be a great asset to one of the region’s most popular courses,” said Richard Schinkel, Berrien County Park Commission Chairman.

The MNRTF receives its funding for grants from royalties from the lease and sale of State owned mineral rights. No tax dollars are used for the MNRTF grant awards. Grantees are required to provide local matching funds.