It is with a great deal of sadness that we relay the news that one of Chikaming Open Lands’ founders, Peter Van Nice, passed away December 7.

Chikaming Open Lands (COL) was born at Peter’s kitchen table. Upon his retirement, having come to Lakeside since childhood, he recognized a potential problem. The growing popularity of this area was leading to an increase in development, which was beginning to change the landscape. Always a champion of conservation, Peter decided to set up a land conservancy in southern Berrien County. He recruited his wife Jeanie, and friends Jean and Steve Smith, and forged ahead, incorporating COL in December of 1999.

In the 22 years since, Peter worked tirelessly to cultivate his vision, growing COL into a fully operational land trust with full-time staff, offices, and a portfolio of protected natural areas. He served as its first President, and put in countless hours doing the on-the-ground work to protect land; managing acquisitions, actively participating in preserve stewardship, and securing funding to make it all happen.

“It was Peter's vision and hard work that led us for the first six or seven years before we had any staff,” says fellow founder Steve Smith. “He was a mentor to all of us on the early Board about what had to be done.” Adds Jean Smith, “Throughout this process Peter always remained humble, and never wanted special recognition for what he had accomplished.”

Peter was passionate about land conservation, and was dedicated to sharing that passion with others. We will miss him terribly, but his legacy lives on in the forests, wetlands, and prairies COL has preserved in this community as a result of his vision and leadership.

We are forever grateful. 

Read the obituary here.