04-30-2020 Coloma schools making plans to have graduations; Governor relaxes COVID-19; Deer Forest n

WATERVLIET STRONG… is the message Watervliet Public Workers put in lights on the ballfield fences at Hays Park. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the community will get through it and the ballfields will once again be filled with happy players and families. That’s a prayer and hope by all. (Contributed photo)

Coloma schools making plans to have graduations; has tenative dates

By Annette Christie

Coloma Community Schools Superintendent Dave Ehlers is hopeful that the district will be able to celebrate the Class of 2020, however, the date that they might be able to do that is still unknown.

Ehlers said on Tuesday that letters went out to all the parents of seniors to lay out some proposed dates for graduation activities. Currently the date planned for graduation is May 29 and while they have not cancelled that date, Ehlers admitted it’s not likely. One of the challenges with other dates is that the facilities will be under construction starting on June 15.

All schools in Michigan were closed down effective March 13, 2020, to try and lessen the spread of COVID-19. A follow up executive order by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer canceled school and all activities for the remainder of the year.

Executive Order 2020-35 stated that “all in-person instruction for pupils in kindergarten through grade 12 is suspended for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and school buildings used for the provision of K-12 education must remain closed for the purpose of providing K-12 education in person for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, unless restrictions on public gatherings and use of school buildings are lifted before the end of the 2019-2020 school year. K-12 school sports activities and other in-person extracurricular school activities are suspended while any state of emergency or state of disaster prompted by COVID-19 is in effect”.

There are still many unknowns with regard to standard year-end events that students would participate in such as award ceremonies, National Honor Society induction, class photos, etc. Ehlers and school administrators continue to work on ideas for how it can all be done to give the students, especially seniors, the attention, credit, and recognition that they deserve. “We keep thinking of ways to keep the kids engaged and knowing that they are missed and not forgotten,” Ehlers said.

The district did purchase yard signs, for all the seniors, that are being personally delivered by the high school principal Mike Churchill.

With the Governor now extending the Stay Home, Stay Safe order through May 15, 2020, it is possible the district will have to wait and see what she does in order for them to make final plans.

Governor relaxes COVID-19 restrictions; begins plan to let businesses re-open in stages

By Jon Bisnett Governor Gretchen Whitmer responded to both a continued softening of the COVID-19 curve and pressure from the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association membership by relaxing some restrictions in her Executive Order dated Friday, April 24. The Governor has now extended the Stay at Home order through May 15, adding a strong recommendation that individuals wear a face mask in all enclosed public spaces. Businesses must also provide masks to workers.

Whitmer says, “Data shows that most Michiganders are doing their part by staying home and staying safe. That’s good, but we must keep it up. Social distancing is our best weapon to defeat this enemy,” Whitmer said. “With new COVID-19 cases leveling off, however, we are lifting some of the restrictions put in place in the previous order. I want to be crystal clear: the overarching message today is still the same. We must all do our part by staying home and staying safe as much as possible.” The Governor opened up some segments of business and recreation by removing the ban on motorized boating, reopening golf courses, and allowing landscapers to go back to work. Construction workers have not been approved to go back to work, causing further controversy over what many call over reach and inconsistency of policy. Golfers may walk, but not ride in carts. Garden Centers may reopen, retail stores may open areas previously sanctioned such as paint supplies, but must perform curbside delivery. Retailers previously deemed non-essential may open, but again must operate curbside only. Amid the lowest gas prices Michiganders have seen in 17 years, the ban on travel to vacation homes has also been relaxed. Many areas have reported pricing under a dollar a gallon. Area schools Tri-City schools are now deploying their individual remote learning plans while developing options for holding some type of graduation, be it virtual or an actual ceremony, with all options still on the table pending further actions by the Governor’s office. Local food service staffs continue to champion the cause of getting thousands of free meals out to Tri-City students each and every week, which will continue to be provided through June 9 along with additional Bridge Card benefits. What’s next? In a Monday press conference, the Governor loosely outlined her “MI Safe Start Plan,” which Whitmer claims will “take into account the various sectors of our economy, geographic and work-place risk, as well as our public health ability and work-place protocols to mitigate the risk.” The plan is slated to be incremental and begin opening segments with workplace types that pose the least risk. Proponents say that residential and commercial construction industry will likely be one of the first sectors to return to work. All this while Michigan residents abide under the most restrictive Stay at Home order in the nation with many of the state’s unemployed yet to receive any benefits from an overloaded unemployment website. We maintain the mantra that “This won’t last forever,” but it becomes quite clear that a new normal will be with us for some length of time.

FIRE… The place where Deer Forest ticket holders could once see birds of magnificent color is left with an almost colorless scar. The amazing drone image shown in the inset photo captures the devastation from a perspective few ever see. The aerial photo was taken by Cody Krieger of Kreeeg Media on Saturday, April 25, two days after the destructive fire. The shot shows the complete loss of a building and surrounding vegetation.

Deer Forest nostalgia in flames; “Way Back When” barn destroyed

By Angela Widdis On Thursday, April 23, 2020 the property affectionately known in Coloma as Deer Forest suffered loss from a fire that destroyed the “Way Back When” building and the stage area along with some green space in the loss of many trees. The building was most recently used as the haunted house barn during the Halloween season, and it also housed items stored during the off-season times. At about 10 p.m., the Coloma Twp. Police Department and North Berrien Fire Rescue stations responded to a report of a fire located at 6800 Indian Lane, just off of Interlochen Road in Coloma Township. Upon arrival, additional units from both Hartford and Watervliet fire departments were called to assist in the blaze. The cause of the fire is under investigation and has not been determined at this time. The costs from the loss of the building and its contents have also not been determined. A history of Deer Forest The hopes of this property returning to what many here in Berrien County remember seems to be declining with each and every hardship that has plagued this once 30-plus acre dream of Cecil Potts. Potts was said to have conceived the idea of Deer Forest after a trip out West to some of this country’s National Parks. In 1949, that idea became a reality when the park opened in June as a theme park with a petting zoo. It was here that visitors could walk along “Storybook Lane” and see up to 30 little nursery rhyme inspired houses and characters. To recount the tales, the attendees could purchase an “Enchanted Key,” at the “Mother Hubbard’s Gift Shop.” This key, shaped like an elephant with the trunk being the blade, would slide into the keyway and the corresponding story from a small speaker could be heard. The popularity of Deer Forest lasted for decades and touched many generations because it was ever growing and changing. Entertainment that graced the stage consisted of things like animal demonstrations, potbelly pig races, performances from local artists, and the John Dudley Magic show. Animal attractions spanned from feeding and petting fallow deer to the pony and camel rides. Larger expansions of rides like the Safari Train that took riders to “Africaland” in 1964, the Tree Top Ferris Wheel in 1965, and the Buttery Fly Swing added in 1989, and the “Wild Child Play Habitat” playground that was the most recent addition, all aided in the family fun that could be found at the park. The motto that was adapted in honor of its 40th season of “Reach Out and Touch Some Fun” has been the very thing that has evoked sentimental and personal feelings of nostalgia for those that again are recalling an era of time gone by. Still, there are many that hope this property that once was billed as “A Day of Fun” will be sold. Currently the listing price is $550,000.

Covid-19 blunted illness curve in future for Berrien County, efforts in virus battle working

By Annette Christie The latest word from Berrien County health officials is that Berrien County will likely experience the “blunted curve” that it is currently in for at least weeks if not months. The Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health-Lakeland held a joint press conference on Friday to update the community on where the County sits with regard to the coronavirus disease COVID-19. While flattening is happening in parts of the state of Michigan, Berrien County continues to see the number of confirmed cases increase. Still, Spectrum Health-Lakeland Hospital CEO Dr. Loren Hamel and Berrien County Health Officer Nicki Britten said that what the citizens have been doing is working. “Be diligent and watch,” Hamel said. While Spectrum Lakeland in St. Joseph is seeing patients with COVID-19, the numbers are not huge for those that are requiring hospitalization. Hamel said we shouldn’t expect to see the drastic peak and drop that they have seen in places like New York. “Your efforts have been working. What we are doing is working,” Hamel said. Governor relaxes some restrictions Just prior to the Health Department / Lakeland press conference, the State of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer held her own press conference and announced that some of the over-reaching Stay Home, Stay Safe order would be relaxed. The majority of citizens will still be required to stay home; however, certain industries could return to work, following the guidelines of social distancing and masking in public. Britten added that it should be slow going. “We are going to have a gradual peeling off of the restrictions,” Britten said, noting that there are only two ways of getting immunity from COVID-19, either having it or getting a vaccine against it, and as of right now, there is no vaccine. The hospital is also letting go of the grip of a lock down which canceled all non-urgent surgeries. Slowly, the hospital will begin to re-schedule those types of health services. Hamel noted that after a while you have to balance the risk of not having a procedure vs. the risk of potentially being exposed to COVID-19. Berrien County Health Officer Nicki Britten said that while they continue efforts of focus on contact chasing, they are also working to improve the chances for persons in vulnerable communities. To protect the vulnerable communities is at the top of the priority list. Nurses have being going out to places like long term care facilities and nursing homes to make sure that good practices are in place to provide the most infection control. Berrien County statistics As of April 28, 2020 there were 15 deaths reported. From the count given at the press conference on Friday, the number of confirmed cases went from 208 – 232, with 166 presumed cases vs. 176 presumed. The other number to focus on is the recoveries which went from 123 to 163.

Testing and its availability continue to be a topic of discussion. Dr. Hamel commented that we now have way more tests available to us here in Berrien County, but it is still not enough. Most days we are testing between 100-150 people. A doctor’s order is still required and both Britten and Hamel agreed that it just doesn’t make sense to test someone just out of curiosity. Even if someone has been exposed to someone else who has tested positive, it still could take 4-5 days for the virus to show positive on a test. “It is important to get the test at the right time and for the right reasons,” Hamel said. Dr. Hamel did announce that his brother Dr. Lowell Hamel, who had been struck with COVID, was off the ventilator and he actually talked to him just before the press conference. He and his family were very appreciative for all the support and prayers during his fight against the disease.

Candidate filing deadline shows results for county officials in V.B. & Berrien

By Annette Christie

The deadline for filing for township and county-wide offices came last week on April 21, 2020. The township results were released in last week’s Tri-City Record.

In error, we reported that Bainbridge Township Supervisor Bill Hodge was seeking re-election. That was reported incorrectly, in fact, earlier he announced that he was not running for that office again. We apologize for the error and any consequences as a result. Rodney Winkel is the lone candidate running for that office.

Berrien County

The following elected positions in Berrien County have single candidates: Steven Pierangeli for Prosecutor; Leonard Paul Bailey for Sheriff; Christopher Quattrin for Drain Commissioner; and John Kamer for Surveyor.

Lora Freehling, current Register of Deeds will face fellow Republican Brandon Vance for that position in the August primary. Also, newly appointed Treasurer Shelly Weich will face fellow Republican Adrian Troy Rolling for that position in the August primary.

Clerk Sharon Tyler, Republican will face Democrat Gwenetta Swanigan in November.

District 2 Commissioner, Jon Hinkelman, faces no opposition. District 2 is comprised of Bainbridge Township, Berrien Township, Pipestone Township, Watervliet City, Watervliet Charter Township south of I-94, and the Village of Eau Claire.

District 1 Commissioner, Republican Dave Vollrath will face Democrat Kevin Holmes in November. District 1 is comprised of Coloma City, Coloma Charter Township, Hagar Township, and the portion of Watervliet Charter Township north of I-94.

Van Buren County

Offices in Van Buren County will see hardly any options on the ballot come this election season, given that most positions only have one person running.

Names on the ballot will be: Susan Zuiderveen for Prosecuting Attorney; Daniel Abbott for Sheriff; Suzanne Roehm for County Clerk; Paul W. Deyoung for Register of Deeds; Trisha Nesbitt for Treasurer; Joe Parman for Drain Commissioner; and Donald Gilchrist for Surveyor.

Mike Chappell, County Commissioner for the Hartford and Keeler area is seeking re-election and is the lone candidate for that position.


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