A trip to the poor farm!

The title of this post  isn’t referring to my financial state although It’s not too far off.   What I am referring to is an Ottowa County park called the Eastmamville Farm that was created from donated farm lands and open to the public.     Of all the places that I’ve lived, Ottowa County in Western Michigan has by far the best park system in Michigan and maybe the Country.  This afternoon while driving  to one of my favorite running parks Bass River Recreation Area, I noticed a sign at the entrance to this property that looks like a beautiful functinal farm minus a house.    From the road you can see a large  barn with 2 silos and some out-buildings all well maintained with a fresh coat of barn-red paint.   To satisfy my curiosity I pulled in to check it out.     Wow seconds after pulling in I’m starting to get excited.    There’s not only a beautiful gravel parking area but there are picnic tables an outhouse, plaques depicting the history of the property and a sign pointing to a trailhead.    My first thought is “this is going to be a sweet adventure and it’s only 3 or 4 miles from my house”.    Maybe it’s part of my ADHD or my sense of adventure but my original plans for a long run at the other location just went out the window.

Barn at the Poor Farm

Have you ever driven down the road or highway through farmlands whether it’s a corn field, or soybeans or even a ranch and looked across the hundreds of acres of rolling hills and thought “I’d love to just  run across that land”.        Chances are you won’t be able to, first because it’s private land and farmers don’t appreciate people running through their crops and it probably wouldn’t be that good of a run because you’d be running over plowed dirt and plants or brush.    In order to have a good run through farmlands you’d have to have a dirt road or at least a trail to take you across.     If you live in Ottowa County or close to it now you have your chance.    The parks commission has created a trail that takes you around the perimeter of the entire farm and through the exterior.    It’s not 25 miles long or anything like that but it’s between 3 and 4 and for one farm that’s a pretty good stretch.

I parked my car and prepared to take off on this new adventure.   It’s a hot day close to 95 degrees so I decide to take my small backpack and plenty of water.      I looked at the map that was posted at the trailhead and even though it didn’t tell what the exact distance of the trail is they had a distance scale of 1/4 mile  and a scaled picture of the trail loops.   I estimated that it was about 3 to 4 miles.   Normally I wouldn’t carry water for a 3 or 4 mile run but it was really  hot and who knows I might find another trail that takes off from this set.   I headed out.

I started running down the trail that is basically a mowed path through a section of tall weeds that went for 100 meters.   It brought me out to the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the property.     I thought to myself that I’m going to enjoy this run.    I continued down the trail across the open expanse.       The run starts out with some hills then across this little creek and a small patch of trees then back up to the top of another hill.   As I came up to the top of this second hill I saw a little picket fence and what looked like some small headstones.      I was looking at a small cemetery on one corner of the farm.   It looked like something from little house on the Prairie.   On a plaque near the entrance of the this tiny cemetery there’s a detailed history of the cemetery and some of its residents.     It turns out that this was the “Poor Farm” of Ottowa county back from the late 1800’s into the 1950’s.   It’s a place where the down and out would come and could find residence if they had no where else to go.    The quiet little plot of land at the top of the hill is  where they buried any of the residents of the  farm when they passed away.     There were a few residents over the course of its existence that were mentally incapable but a lot of folks were just people who had no families and were basically too Poor to survive.

Cemetery on a quiet hill at a back corner of the property

As I took off down the trail I kept thinking about the people that lived at the farm  and what the farm was like in the early days.    I could almost feel this eerie presence  of the residents as I ran across the  farm on this scorching day.      I ended up running 3 loops on the farm which took almost 2 hours.  

View of the Farm from the Cemetery

I will definitely come back to run the trails of the Eastmanville Poor Farm.   The trails aren’t any that  you’ll  see featured in trail running magazine but it’s 4 miles from my house and it’s a hidden gem right in my backyard.    Next time you go out for a run look in your backyard for that hidden pocket of woods or trail you might be surprised what you find.  

Find your adventure!!


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