Fred Meijer and the Creation of the West Michigan Trails Network
Fred Meijer has always had the idea that people in the city were just a bit out of place, and needed the country. "Ninety-five percent of folks live in the city," he says, "and never get to experience the rural areas surrounding them." He even goes a little farther, referring to keeping one's "mental stability" by spending time outside of the noise, congestion, and great human drama of the city. By opting out, even for a short time, to ride one's bike or take a walk, a person - in Fred's estimation - is helping to keep their sanity.
That's why, in 1994, Fred Meijer made a landmark donation of $265,000 to help purchase an abandoned rail line in Greenville, Michigan. This would become the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, and would stretch from Greenville to Alma, encompassing more than 41 miles. A precursor to a life spent donating to create recreational trails, this first trail would set the stage for a man who would later be called the "Johnny Appleseed of Trails" by the organizations he assists.
The great service of Fred and his wife Lena for families in West Michigan means that there exists a place where fresh air, exercise, and - above all - safety are paramount, and one can enjoy the rural surrounding that we so often take for granted in lives that are saturated with the constant din of the city. And yet, Fred remains humble. "I'm not generous," he scolds when asked. "I just love the trails." Fred and Lena Meijer continue to donate record amounts to preserve existing trails, and create new sanctuaries for those who, like Fred, need to escape sometimes.