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Providing Continued Support for the Environment: Endowment, GreenWays, and The Great Lakes Way

March 28th, 2022 Back to Browse Stories

Ongoing support for the environment is a pressing concern with far-reaching impacts and endowment is key to that support.

Michiganders have long prided themselves on the natural beauty of their state. A land of lakes and rivers, sand dunes and pine forests, it holds a reputation for being a well-kept secret among outdoor enthusiasts who want a destination off the beaten path. Michigan is also one of the chief caretakers of the Great Lakes, a natural resource of global importance. Despite this, the history of environmental preservation in the state could be significantly improved, both in terms of environmental access and ecological preservation.

To begin finding a solution, humans need to change the way that we think about our relationship with the environment. It’s clearer than ever before that we are all parts of an interdependent whole, and that the health of one part affects the health of all the others. Policymakers and industry leaders have begun to prioritize issues of sustainability and environmental impact. We can strengthen this growing environmental ethic from the ground up through a local commitment with stable, long-lasting support.

Setting aside natural spaces and making them accessible for appreciation, education, and recreation connects communities to their environment in a meaningful way. Just spending time in nature is good for you, conferring a host of mental and emotional benefits. Green spaces bring communities together as gathering places within cities and towns, and as scenic, environmentally-friendly travel options between them. This increased contact with nature also encourages us to think about our relationship with the world around us and the importance of preserving our natural assets.

Public attention often doesn’t turn to environmental causes until moments of crisis, where the opportunity for prevention has already passed and the only options available are more urgent. However, to achieve lasting impact, those interested in safeguarding the environment should consider solutions that will play out over generations. Sustained support in the form of endowment funds ensures that those long-term environmental initiatives will have the resources they need, well into the future.

Nonprofit endowments are key to big-picture planning.

With endowment funds, the gifts are invested for long-term growth, and a portion of the fund is available for use each year –thus providing a stable, long-term source of revenue that can be applied toward a specific cause, need or opportunity. Donors who establish an endowment with the Community Foundation can specify an area of focus, and we will work to match annual grants towards their interests. Donors can also contribute to existing endowment funds that reflect their interests and priorities.

Endowment funds provide a firm foundation for long-term environmental projects, ensuring financial resources that nonprofits can reliably depend on. The mission of an environmentally-targeted fund can be as specific as preserving the health and accessibility of a single shoreline, a stretch of river, or a particular lake.

Funds can also be broader in scope, which gives the Community Foundation more flexibility in assigning grants. Wide-ranging and sometimes unexpected initiatives can have environmental impacts: clean air initiatives, education programs, and even infrastructure developments like parks, public spaces, trails and greenways. Funds that encompass the complexity of our relationship with the natural world open the door to valuable collaborations, and endowments ensure that they can continue their work for future generations.

Park and WaterThe environment is a priority at the Community Foundation.

The Community Foundation has several existing funds with an environmental focus. Some are fully endowed and some are not, but all would benefit from the longevity that endowments secure. The reliable funding of endowments is particularly important for large-scale initiatives like these:

The GreenWays Initiative

The GreenWays Initiative was the Community Foundation’s first major initiative to focus on environmental infrastructure. Founded in 2001, its goal was to expand and enhance the natural landscape and connect the communities of southeastern Michigan. Over the first five years of its active grant distribution, the GreenWays Initiative raised $33 million in foundation and private contributions and leveraged over $125 million in matching investments to help more than 80 municipalities develop, finance, and construct over 100 miles of interconnected greenways.

These outdoor spaces physically connect people with the environment and with each other, promote outdoor recreation and environmentally-friendly transportation, and encourage people to consider their relationship with the natural world. The development of greenways is an intensive and lengthy process, one that involves community engagement, collaboration with local governments, financing, construction, and many other steps that require skill and experience to navigate. While GreenWays Initiative’s grantmaking has evolved, the Community Foundation maintains a GreenWays Initiative endowment that supports unique greenways and trail opportunities in southeast Michigan, and the Initiative continues to share its expertise in all steps of the development process with municipalities and philanthropic organizations nationwide.

The Great Lakes Way

Building on the work of the GreenWays Initiative, the goal of The Great Lakes Way is to expand on the interconnectedness promoted by greenways. The Great Lakes Way would help to create, connect, and support 160 miles of greenways and 156 miles of coastal blueways from Toledo to Port Huron.

These interconnected trails and waterways will create a natural corridor linking 44 municipalities and foster economic development along their route, while providing all the benefits associated with greenways and access to nature. The unifying brand of the “The Great Lakes Way” will bring together the municipalities connected by the route, and create a rallying point for environmental giving in the region. Community support will add weight to The Great Lakes Way project’s efforts to create a new federal category of protected natural spaces—another step to preserve this unique natural asset of southeast Michigan for future generations.

The Great Lakes Environmental Endowment Fund

Whether it’s clean air or water, public spaces, environmental education, or community engagement around a specific project, the Great Lakes Endowment Fund supports the full range of environmental issues and opportunities that the Community Foundation takes on. Programs and projects such as the expansion of public parks, the development of a school curriculum for young people, or investment in community gardens to help address flooding while beautifying neighborhoods have all benefited from the Great Lakes Endowment Fund.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Trails Maintenance Fund

A fully endowed fund, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Trails Maintenance Fund exists to ensure that the work of the GreenWays Initiative and The Great Lakes Way continues to benefit the communities of southeast Michigan in perpetuity. Extraordinary circumstances can cause some part of an existing trail or greenway to be washed out, damaged, or otherwise make it unavailable for recreation. When that happens, the Wilson Trail Maintenance Fund can provide grants to help repair and restore the trail, protecting the legacy of the GreenWays Initiative and all local conservation efforts—a perfect example of the importance of endowment in carrying on the mission of conservation.

Supporting environmentally-focused funds is an investment in the future.

Sustained support for the environment matters. Access to natural spaces improves the mental, physical, and social health of individuals and communities, and it fosters an ethic of stewardship that can change humans’ relationship with the planet for the better. The long-term stability that endowment funds provide is important for maintaining the momentum of change, and for ensuring that southeast Michigan’s natural beauty stays vibrant for generations to come.

If you would like to contribute to the Community Foundation’s environmental efforts, or are interested in exploring endowment funds to support conservation, we can work together to create a lasting impact. Please contact Katie Brisson for more information.

Learn More Supporting the Environment with the Community Foundation