In front of a crowd of 50 or 60 people, the Friends of the Saline River opened the Leslee Niethammer Saline River Preserve Sunday.
Members of the Friends and sponsors spoke before a ribbon cutting. After that, many walked down the hill and along the trails in the 17.4-acre preserve, which is owned by York Township and maintained by the Friends of the Saline River.
The preserve is the result of the work of dedicated citizens, the cities of Saline and Milan, and York Township. The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission also provided seed money. The Friends of the Saline River raised money privately, collecting donations from more than 100 donors
The preserve is named for Leslee Niethammer, who died of cancer in March of 2016. Niethammer was director of the Saline District Library for more than 25 years. She was a community leader, involved in many community organizations like Citizens for a Quality Community, Saline Leadership Institute, Saline Lions, Pick Up the Pace and many more.
She was married to David Rhoads, the longtime city councillor. Rhoads had already purchased the property and was working to turn it into a preserve when Niethammer was diagnosed with cancer.
“Leslee would be so happy to see the wonderful turnout here today. This preserve is a great remembrance for her,” Rhoads said.
Leslee’s sister and nieces, Greta and Hannah, walked the trail Sunday.
Once down the hill, the first trail people see is the Meadow Loop Trail, which circles the large meadow. A little to the north, along Spring Brook, is the Iris Detter Trail, sponsored by the Detter Family Foundation. When Iris Detter found out a trail was named for her, she wanted to be sure to attend the grand opening, “so people wouldn’t think I was dead!” she laughed.
To the west there’s a short trail called the Bur Oak Trail. To the north lies the Charlie Burg River Trail, which takes hikers to the Saline River.
The property was once owned by Charlie Burg, known to many as “Bicycle Charlie.” But for his dogs and other animals, Burg lived alone on the undeveloped property in his trailer near the Saline River. When he did, people saw the undeveloped property and saw an opportunity.
“The thought process was, let’s make it a natural habitat. We’ll preserve this park for posterity, and give all our children and grandchildren an opportunity to see what a natural park is all about,” said John Stankowski, the former York Township Supervisor who serves as president of the Friends of the Saline River. “That’s great. But now you need money to buy it.”
Thanks to the county grant and private fundraising by the friends, the property was purchased for $110,000 – with no public money spent.
“We have a park here solely sustained by public donations,” Stankowski said.
The obviously features no sidewalks or constructed features, other than a few birdhouses installed in various locations. Getting up and down the hill between the parking area and the preserve will be a challenge for anyone with limited mobility.
Rhoads planted milkweed seed to attract monarch butterflies. Stankowski said visitors to the preserve have seen cranes, a white turkey and deer.
The trail is open from dawn to dusk.
Firearms, alcoholic beverages, fireworks, hunting and trapping and motorized vehicles are prohibited.
For more information visit www.salineriver.org.