Patty Janes, director of Michigan Cares for Tourism and professor at Grand Valley State, has high hopes that the cleanup will lead to bigger things. "We came here to kick-start a wonderful, larger project," she says. "The thought was, if we could kick-start it, then the DNR could find and secure funding for more work. However, the DNR has 240 historic sites that need attention and a $350 million deficit. These places will never get reopened unless people in our state join forces and work together."
Newman's involvement also led, indirectly, to the formation of a new group promoting nearby "gateway" communities. In 2007, Chelsea Chamber of Commerce head Bob Pierce attended Newman's national fan club meeting at Mill Lake. Conversations he had there eventually led Pierce to organize a group of movers and shakers in Chelsea to attend a Conservation Fund training session focused on communities that are neighbors to public lands. After that, another session in Chelsea drew folks from a wider area, including Waterloo and Pinckney recreation areas, Stockbridge, Dexter, Manchester, and Jackson.
As the group, and the ideas, got bigger, they decided to become more formal. Because they were spread over an area of about 400 square miles, they called themselves the Big 400.
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