TRAVERSE CITY — Business owner Gordon Schafer knows how important Antrim County’s natural environment is to tourism and commerce.
Schafer owns the Dockside-Torch Lake restaurant in Bellaire and said that’s why he will — for the 15th year running — lead fundraising efforts for the county’s Grass River Natural Area during a special event at the restaurant May 6.
Schafer raised thousands of dollars over the years for the 1,443-acre natural area that features a river, streams, and lots of native grasses and wildflower species.
“The saying I have is, ‘Go to dinner, Grass River is the winner,’” Schafer said.
The Spring Fling at the Dockside runs May 6 from 5 to 10 pm. Half of everything spent goes directly to the Grass River Natural Area.
The natural area is owned by Antrim County. Area Director Haley Breniser said Schafer’s support over the years has been a huge help to the area, allowing for conservation of sensitive habitat and educational programs for area youth.
“It is a significant contribution to our center,” Breniser said. “This is a sensitive habitat you want to conserve, and it has ecological significance. There is Aspen, Red Maple, White Pine, Balsum Fir, Northern Hemlock. You can take boardwalks into a cedar swamp and a northern wet meadow, and then the riparian corridor and river habitat and wetlands are beautiful.”
The Grass River Natural Area came to be because of a grassroots initiative by local citizens to protect the area from development. The Natural Area was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1979. The organization is funded by donations, grant and foundation giving, Antrim County appropriations, and fundraising events like the Spring Fling. The annual budget of the Natural Area is about $200,000.
A new education building called the Grass River Center was finished in 2011.
Schafer said he also supports the Grass River Natural Area because it regularly holds what he considers valuable educational classes for kids.
“They’ve educated younger generations year after year, and it’s all cumulative,” Schafer said.