Champion of environment prepares to move on

Recently, during a presentation by the Friends of the Clinton River Trail, founder Dan Keifer said modestly that he’s “just the talking head” for the organization. Those who have worked alongside him on the trail and other environmental efforts will tell you that’s not exactly the case.
A longtime Rochester Hills resident, Keifer is credited with leadership and dedication that have helped turn key environmental dreams into reality. They include the trail, the city’s green space preservation program, and awareness of the region’s water resources through his work at the Clinton River Watershed Council.
Now, 26 years after moving to Rochester Hills, Keifer and his wife Heidi have “hit the reset button,” he said. They are moving to Washington, D. C. after succumbing to a case of “granddaughter disease.” Their daughter Beth has a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, the Keifers’ first grandchild. Heidi has already moved; Dan plans to join her by the end of the summer.
“I’m going to miss so much,” he said. “It’s such a wonderful area. The water resources … the Great Lakes. I will certainly miss that, and just the wonderful network of people I’ve established.”
“The community will certainly miss him,” said Gerry Carvey, chairman of the Rochester Hills Green Space Advisory Board. Keifer was involved in the successful campaign for a green-space preservation tax. “He has tremendous energy, tremendous commitment,” Carvey said. “When he says, ‘I’m going to do something,’ it gets done.”
After a career in advertising and marketing, Keifer, who earned an MBA at the University of Michigan, started a second career when he joined the CRWC in 2002. As community outreach coordinator, he has promoted recreational opportunities and partnerships with other organizations. Among them is Trout Unlimited, which awarded him its National Disti

nguished Service Award in 2008.
“The Clinton River Trail wouldn’t be there, I guess probably, without his input and direction,” said Rochester Hills resident Pat Mullin. He and his wife Shirley live between the Clinton River and the former railroad line that became the trail. They remember when Keifer knocked on their door to ask them to join the campaign to create the trail.
“As soon as that railroad land became available, we were involved in anything we could do to promote the purchase by the city of Rochester Hills,” Mullin said. “Dan especially is the one who promoted an alliance between all of the municipalities involved in the trail.” The trail is now nearly complete across five municipalities.
With so much accomplished, Keifer said there is plenty more to do. The trail Friends group has funded a plan to improve the look and feel of the trail with the goal of making it a destination. “That whole idea of taking a good trail … and potentially making it a great trail, with more amenities, more wayfinding, particularly for visitors,” he said. The improvements have yet to be funded, but Keifer is hopeful that the communities will jointly apply for a grant to fulfill the plan, along with private donors.
“It certainly fits in with this growing interest in local governments cooperating,” he said. “The trail is something that’s pretty easy for folks to find common ground.”
Though going strong, “People can’t count on the Friends group to do everything,” Keifer said. “We’re just a group of volunteers. We don’t have a lot of capacity to take on the heavy lifting that’s probably necessary to make this a destination.”
The top trails “have a well-established governance,” he said. “I’m just hopeful that through this growing process of cooperation, it’s going to bubble up organically. … But I think that’s down the road, and I don’t think it’s absolutely essential.”
As for the watershed, “There’s certainly a wish list and it’s on the same theme of cooperation,” Keifer said. “Recreational use of the river is coming on strong. …. The health of the river is surprisingly good. The problems that remain are unfortunately misunderstood and oversimplified. …
“Storm-water runoff is the largest source of pollution today, our land use and our land management practices are key to further improvement of water quality.” More awareness and regional cooperation, he said, are the answer.
“Cooperation is really the only way you’re going to get progress, especially when you’re talking about trails, rivers and streams that cross political boundaries.”
Over his years of activism, Keifer said he’s come to understand that it’s really true that “the world is run by those who show up.” So he was exhilarated recently when several Rochester Hills homeowner associations got together to propose a charter amendment to city council to protect city-owned parkland from any development other than recreation.
“They did a marvelous job,” he said. “Those 10 or 15 homeowner associations, they said, ‘Hey; it doesn’t have to be just green space protected by the city or by the trail.’”
As he prepares to leave, Keifer and his colleagues said they feel the efforts so well begun will continue.
“Dan has developed a lot of leadership on the trail group,” Carvey said. “There are a number of things in place.”
The Friends “won’t have one dedicated person like him. But many people are quite active in the group, and quite accomplished,” Mullin said. “I can see that it’s going to go on.”

By Annette Kingsbury

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