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Success Story

Conservation Programs Help Keep Family Connected to the Land

A sign recognizes the Simmons property as a Century Farm on the shore of Middle Lake in Kent County

The Simmons family utilized NRCS conservation programs to manage their century farm which provides recreational space to generations of family members.

Although no one in the extended Simmons family farms, or lives on the family farm, the land still brings them together. The 200-acre farm near Cedar Springs in Kent County containing crop fields, woods, a stream, and lakeshore, has been in the family since 1895.

“We’re all really tied to the land,” said Robert Simmons of his extended family’s relationship to the centennial farm.

In 2020, the family began working with NRCS and are utilizing the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to help them manage and sustain the farm. The conservation programs are allowing them to manage and improve the land for their own use as well as preserve it for future generations of the Simmons family.

Robert and his brother John grew up north of Grand Rapids and visited the farm nearly every weekend during their childhood. Today, three generations of the family regularly use the property for outdoor recreation and relaxing. Robert still lives in Kent County, John lives in Georgia but still visits the property at least annually. A cousin from Missouri was camping on the property in August next to a sand beach the family constructed on Middle Lake.

The family rents out the 81 acres of farmland on the property. The renter contacted the local NRCS district conservationist, Matt Soehnel, and recommended he contact the Simmons family regarding a culvert crossing on the farm. The culvert had been widened to allow farm equipment to cross over Lower White Creek by adding extensions to the existing culvert tubes. The extensions to the culvert further inhibited organism passage through the culvert and streambank erosion was a concern.

Middle Lake connects to the Rogue River by way of Lower White Creek which runs through the Simmons farm. The Rogue River is a popular fishery for trout and salmon, especially near where it joins the Grand River.  Fortuitously, the Simmons farm is in the project area of the Lower Grand River Watershed Habitat Restoration and Farmland Conservation Project, funded through RCPP. The project, led by the Grand Valley Metro Council, received funding to improve water quality and fish habitat among other objectives.

The Simmons were able to utilize RCPP funds to replace the undersized culvert on their farm with a wider culvert that will allow fish passage from Middle Lake to Lower White Creek. USDA funding for fish passages is usually only available to American Indian tribes but funding for the practice was specifically available for the Lower Grand River Project. The family also utilized RCPP funds to create a forest management plan for the 110 acres of woods on the farm. The forest management plan was completed by a private Technical Service Provider early in 2022.

The forest management plan identified invasive species as a resource concern and the family has utilized RCPP funding to remove invasive autumn olive and multi-flora rose from their forest land. The forester also developed a selective timber harvest plan that will bring in revenue to support the farm. The forester identified 165 trees for harvest that will go out for bid to local timber buyers. The trees were selected to not negatively impact the forest habitat. Every tree marked for harvest was selected with a rationale for removing it, said Robert. The harvest is scheduled for after the 2023 deer season.

In August, the new culvert designed to allow for passage by aquatic organisms was completed. They are pleased with how the fish passage came out. “You can still hear the water flowing,” said John.

The family also enrolled the farm in CSP as part of its goal of making the farm self-supporting financially.   CSP will provide annual payments over 5-years based on the conservation practices the family has implemented. The program provides additional financial assistance for further conservation enhancements on the property. They already plan to utilize CSP enhancements to improve wildlife habitat.

After the 5-year CSP contract is completed, it can be renewed for an additional 5 years, said Soehnel. “The program provides an opportunity to continue our conservation partnership with the Simmons family.”

Brothers John and Robert Simmons stand above a fish passage constructed on their farm in Kent County.