The Chipman Preserve: A Company’s Roots Become the Community’s Future
The roots of Landscape Forms took hold long before the company’s modern and expansive East Michigan, Midlink, and Meld facilities. They began right off East Main Street, behind a beautiful home, in a small barn on what is now known as the Chipman Preserve.
Located in Comstock Township, Chipman Preserve features restored prairie and oak savanna habitats, and miles of trails to walk, run, or cross-country ski.
This barn was part of the home and property of Landscape Forms' founder, John Chipman, Sr., and his family. Surrounding the barn initially was the nursery that provided the plants for John’s landscaping business during its busy summer months. But during the notorious cold of Michigan’s winters, landscaping projects were understandably hard to come by. Wanting to continue providing work and opportunity for his twelve employees, John tasked them with crafting outdoor furniture in the small family barn. What initially started as a "winter job filler" soon surpassed his landscaping company, and the Landscape Forms we know today was born.
Renowned for his generosity and love of the outdoors, John was one of the earliest members of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC), a nonprofit organization that works to restore local habitats, protect water quality, support biodiversity, and connect people with nature. So, in 2002 when John and his wife Patti began donating their 185 acres to SWMLC, it was no surprise. Both John and Patti were eager to be central parts of the ecological restoration and biodiversity that would be created on the property for future generations.
At Chipman Preserve, one of the largest oak savanna restoration sites on private land in Michigan, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is working to restore over 200 acres of oak savanna and prairie – habitats that were once common in the Kalamazoo area but that have now almost completely disappeared.
Now home to winter cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, spring wildflower and wildlife viewing, summer hiking and trail running, and famed “fall color watching”, the Chipman Preserve is a treasured gem of Kalamazoo County. Combined with the multiple Chipman family gifts and adjacent acreage purchased by SWMLC, the Preserve now comprises 228 rolling prairie and oak savanna acres, and the Chipman family home takes on new purpose as headquarters for the SWMLC.
The Chipman home is now SWMLC’s corporate headquarters and located on the premises of the Chipman Preserve.
John Chipman’s generous donation not only gave new life and vitality to a precious native landscape, but it also helped build up a fledgling organization who would take this mission far and wide. Peter D. Ter Louw, President & Executive Director of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, explains, "For our organization, the donation of the Chipman Preserve gave us new life. At the time of the donation, the SWMLC was only about a decade old, and we didn’t yet have the space to do the sorts of large-scale native plant restoration projects that we wanted to do,” Ter Louw recalls. "So, when John and Patti donated their land, it gave our volunteers the opportunity to indulge themselves in the types of restoration projects they’ve always dreamed of. The Chipman family, the Preserve, and a small community of Landscape Forms founding members and John’s long-time designer friends really were the catalysts for the growth of our organization. They helped lay the groundwork for all the great work we’re able to do today.”
John’s hand in the land’s revitalization and in the creation of the Chipman Preserve didn’t end with his donation, however. Before he passed away in 2011, John was often knee-deep in the brush helping to restore the land he loved so much. “As the restoration started taking off, John became increasingly involved and excited by the process. It speaks to what type of person he was,” says Ter Louw . “He really lived out the passion and energy of our volunteers and their shared love for the native ecosystem. It wasn’t long before John got himself a little golf cart and a few chainsaws, and he would spend his days removing Austrian pines or whatever else needed to go to further the restoration,” Ter Louw remembers with a warm smile.
Small remnant populations of rare savanna and prairie plants found on the preserve are being encouraged through fire and brush removal. Additional species are being restored through seed and transplants from other local remnant habitats.
Along with the continued generosity of Patti Chipman, Landscape Forms lives out John’s passion and philanthropic spirt to ensure the Chipman Preserve remains an ecological haven where children can come and “just be free” exactly as he hoped. "Twice per year and usually coinciding with Earth Day, volunteers from all over Landscape Forms are out at the Chipman Preserve helping with all sorts of different projects,” describes Landscape Forms Senior Marketing Specialist, Moira Gilligan.
"These are highly-anticipated company events and space fills up immediately,” Gilligan says. "It’s aways a great opportunity to connect with and get to know coworkers who you might not cross paths with on a regular day. People from the office, people from manufacturing, our CEO, even members of our Board—we’re all out there together restoring trails, clearing brush, and doing whatever needs to be done to maintain the Preserve."
Landscape Forms’ employees volunteer at the Chipman Preserve multiple times a year to ensure the Chipman Preserve remains an ecological haven as founder John Chipman desired.
For the Landscape Forms team, the Chipman Preserve is a sacred place—it’s emblematic of the company’s mission, it’s a shared source of pride for company’s team members, it’s a substantial method to give back to the company’s community, and it’s a way to reconnect with the inspiring spirit of the company’s founder. Gilligan concludes, "It's been an amazing partnership so far with the SWMLC, both in enacting our mission to enhance outdoor spaces, but also in maintaining connections with our company’s roots. Hearing anecdotes about John, learning about his generosity, about his love and respect for this landscape, it’s something aspirational for me, and it's a spirit that pervades in the heart of this company."