Remembering Valerino Castro
We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Valerino Castro, a man who played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Land Conservancy’s first nature preserve.
Valerino and his wife Maria owned the land that is now Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve. Under their care, the land was a farm. They planted fields with alfalfa, corn and hay to feed the family’s cows, pigs, horses, goats and chickens.
Valerino worked full-time at General Motors. When he came home, he would work the farm.
“He was often up very late at night or until wee hours of the morning, often only getting a couple hours of sleep, tending to the animals or working the fields,” said Lisa Castro, daughter of Valerino and Maria.
Valerino and Maria cherished Saul Lake Bog and the animals that lived there. They loved to walk the property.
“He and I took countless walks from the barns to the bog. The night walks were priceless,” Maria said. “The peaceful solitude one feels as you hear the many night sounds is so healing to the soul, a oneness with God’s universe.”
Many developers made offers to buy the Castro’s land, Lisa said, but Valerino wanted to protect the bog. In 1989, he sold it to the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, then known as the Natural Areas Conservancy of West Michigan. The organization was able to purchase the first 52 acres with the help of the Steelcase Foundation, Grand Rapids Foundation, and many community members. It was the organization’s first nature preserve. Three years later, the family generously donated a portion of the remaining 71 acres and the Land Conservancy purchased the rest.
Since then, the Land Conservancy has focused on preserving the bog and transforming the fields into native tallgrass prairie habitat. Lisa said her dad loved to hear about the ways wildlife and people made use of the land he used to farm.
“Years ago, when his health first started to decline it became difficult for him to walk unaided so he was not able to visit the bog the way he would’ve liked to. However, I would go walk the trails and always share with him the wonderful things the Land Conservancy was doing including the establishment of the prairie, considered placement of trails that’s allowing the wildlife to thrive, and increased sounds of bio-life … various bird and frog sounds as well as seeing the movement of rabbits and deer amongst the fields,” Lisa said. “When I would tell him of all the wonderful things I observed at the bog, he would get a huge smile on his face, sparkle in his eyes, and simply say, ‘That’s good,’ with a look of contentment on his face.”
“The conservancy has many special volunteers, all nature lovers like my husband,” Maria said. “Knowing the conservancy’s commitment to maintain the landscape, my husband took great comfort in knowing he helped many generations to have a special place where the soul can heal.”
Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve is beloved by many. It would not be protected as it is today without the contributions of Valerino Castro. The Land Conservancy is profoundly grateful for his support and the support of his family. We extend our deepest condolences to the Castro family.