Ethan Axtmann and Aleta Hursh are honoring their late parents by gifting the land where they grew up to Ferris State University to provide educational opportunities for its students.
Axtmann and Hursh donated 92 acres of property east of Big Rapids to establish the Harold and Pauline Axtmann Family Nature Preserve. The pristine land will be utilized for academic work by Ferris students majoring in such fields as surveying or biological sciences, among others.
The Martiny Township property was purchased in 1937 by Harold Axtmann. It included a summer resort on the north side of Horsehead Lake, one of the largest lakes in Mecosta County. The area of property that housed Horsehead Lake Campground was sold shortly after Pauline Axtmann’s death in 2000. The remaining land was gifted to Ferris.
“I have very fond memories of my time there; I surely enjoyed the property as did my parents and sister,” said Ethan Axtmann, who moved to Oregon in 2003. “It’s a beautiful property – it’s a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife, and there are many vegetation types … I’m very happy that Ferris is taking over its preservation and that it will benefit students.”
The property includes uplands and wetlands, and features a variety of ecosystems, said Gary Rodabaugh, a professor of Biology in the College of Arts, Sciences and Education. Students in his Ecological Assessment and Forensic Biology classes already have used the property for study, he said, and this fall the Biology department plans to make extensive use of the area for students in the aforementioned classes as well as Entomology, Ornithology and Ecology courses.
“I have taken approximately 20 faculty on tours of the property to review the number of opportunities for future studies,” Rodabaugh said. “The property cannot be logged, and we are limited to (constructing) a single educational structure as part of the donation criteria. We hope to work on funding opportunities for that in the near future.
“I anticipate that this will become a key resource … for many years to come.”
The land gift was made through The Ferris Foundation, which generates and manages private support for the university. The preserve will be kept in its natural state, with the understanding that the university is responsible for maintaining a safe learning environment.
“Ethan Axtmann and Aleta Hursh’s generous gift of land of such pristine nature is helping to support the educational programs of Ferris State University in a very thoughtful and constructive way,” said Carla Miller, executive director of The Ferris Foundation. “Their dedication to Ferris and their desire to give to the university community is to be commended.”