By Jeremy C. Nagel
On my way to my latest Community Group meeting, I was reminded of this bullseye skewer from Charles Kuralt: “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
Motorist Jeremy appreciates interstates for the same reasons we all do: they’re fast and efficient. Geographer Jeremy dislikes them for the same reasons Mr. Kuralt did: they mostly deny you a human-scale view of the landscape you’re zooming through. You might as well be in a plane.
Fortunately for me, the most efficient route from Lansing to Hesperia booted me off I-96 at Nunica, an exit I’ve had memorized since childhood but very rarely actually taken.
From there it’s mostly a straight line north to the central-western edge of Newaygo County, where I dropped in on the Neighborly Northerners, one of that county’s two remaining Community Groups. (Much more about that meeting next month—I promise.)
The first leg of that drive is in Ottawa County: 112th Avenue from Nunica north to the Muskegon County line, where it becomes Maple Island Road. This is about the northern reach of the western Michigan blueberry belt, and you could almost sense the bushes eager to bust loose into a new season.
North of Apple Avenue (M-46), you pass an interesting concentration of forestry product processing: mountains of mulch, piles of pallets. Soon you’re tight-roping the county line, with Muskegon on your left, Newaygo on your right. Once you cross the big Muskegon River and come up the other side of its valley, orchards appear on your right, reminding you you’re not far from The Ridge.
Pass a big turkey farm, then Maple Island Road t-bones M-120, which right there is curving north to bisect Brunswick, the last named place before—on your left only—Muskegon County gives way to Oceana.
More orchards, a patch of muck… Greenhouses, a gravel pit, a farm market…
Now you’re in mixed-farm territory, leaning toward dairy, and history started seeping into the geography. I visited Shari and Frank Konkel’s dairy near here, and met Shari—Newaygo’s longtime newsletter editor—at the Hesperia House (great breakfast) with then-regional rep Pat Lause, who also lived nearby.
This drive, like so many across the state, showcased the beautiful, breathtaking diversity of Michigan agriculture. As fascinating as its diversity is its mutability; over time it shifts and changes and evolves just like our lakeshore dunes.
Discuss how your local agricultural landscape has changed over time.