SW MI Land Conservancy encourages residents and visitors to take a hike

	Hikers of all ages are encouraged to pick up their walking sticks and explore the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s 11 nature preserves. Registration in SWMLC’s Hop Our Preserves (HOP!) program costs $7 and includes a free walking stick. 	Photos courtesy of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

    The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) launched the third year of its Hike Our Preserves (HOP!) program Saturday with hiking stick pick-up for paid registrants at 13 participating local libraries across southwest Michigan.
    HOP! is SWMLC’s year-round hiking program that encourages kids to get fit while having fun outdoors. The new season of HOP! adds Hidden Pond Preserve to SWMLC’s 10 other HOP! preserves for kids and families to explore.
    Registration costs $7 per participant, and includes a free hiking stick and a medallion for each of the HOP preserves hiked. The first 50 participants to complete hikes at 10 out of the 11 preserves will receive a free gift from Jr. Rangerland Educational Publishing. Choices include puzzles, books, games, water bottles, and more! And this year, SWMLC is partnering with 13 libraries across southwest Michigan so that kids and families can combine a trip to the library with picking up their HOP hiking stick.
    Thus far, over 400 children and families have signed up for the HOP! program, earning over 800 medallions. Each of the first two years of the program, more than 50 people completed visits to all of the preserves, and many more visited at least one or two preserves – some for the first time.
    “We’re thrilled that the HOP! program is introducing so many people to our many nature preserves around southwest Michigan,” stated SWMLC board member Thom Coder. “We have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the program, and we’re so excited to be partnering this year with local libraries across southwest Michigan to offer this fun way to encourage kids to get outside, exercise, explore, and at the same time, nurture a love of nature and reading.”
    Participants must register online at:  https://swmlc.org/hop/ or in person at the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy office at 8395 East Main St., Galesburg, MI 49053. Free hiking sticks can be picked up by showing proof of paid registration at any of the participating HOP! library locations, including: Antwerp Sunshine Library in Mattawan, Bangor Branch Library, Bloomingdale Branch Library, Covert Branch Library, Gobles Branch Library, Lawrence Branch Library, Marcellus Township Wood Memorial Library, Parchment Community Library, Paw Paw District Library, Portage District Library, Richland Community Library, Schoolcraft Community Library, and Webster Memorial Branch Library in Decatur. Registration is ongoing, so families can register at any time.
    For anyone who signed up last year, but were unable to complete visits to all of the preserves, their registrations will be rolled over to this year to give them a chance to finish. This year’s program runs through June 2020.
    To join SWMLC this summer for their 2019 Hike Our Preserves (HOP!) program, visit their website at https://swmlc.org/hop/.
    To learn more about the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and the HOP! program, visit the SWMLC website at www.swmlc.org or SWMLC’s Facebook page.

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