KALAMAZOO, Mich.—With fall classes on the horizon, Kalamazoo's mayor is welcoming the Western Michigan University community back to town.
"We are glad that you are here," says Bobby Hopewell. "Students and WMU in general bring so much energy into this community, and we are happy to have bright young minds from all over the world coming to Kalamazoo to study and have a positive impact on this world."
From a vibrant arts and music scene to farm-fresh produce and outdoor recreation, there are plenty of opportunities for students, faculty and staff to enjoy the city.
"There are a lot of activities on campus, but don't be afraid to check out what is happening downtown or in other parts of the city," says Hopewell, who earned a master's degree from WMU in 2014. "Also, find ways you can apply what you are learning in class to make our community a better place. Learning by doing is incredibly powerful; seek opportunities off campus for experiential learning if you can.
Hopewell and other community leaders have highlighted a number of experiences worth checking out for those who are new to the city or haven't had a chance to explore much before.
"Great food, live music, theater, parks, movies, coffee shops," says Hopewell, "there is just so much to do."
"I think it's surprising —in a community as small as Kalamazoo is—the types and quality of the attractions that we have," says Renee Newman, vice president of marketing and communications at Discover Kalamazoo. "They're all undiscovered gems here."
Creating the nation's first outdoor pedestrian mall in 1959, Kalamazoo continues to draw in unique shops around the downtown area.
"We're a community of makers," says Newman. "People are coming in to take advantage of that. They're making ceramics at Grayling Ceramics or making their own candles at Kalamazoo Candle Company."
The city is also home to a number of eclectic coffee shops and restaurants as well as several food trucks that set up at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market and other events throughout the year.
"The market is a great place to mingle with neighbors and buy fresh from the farm produce and handmade items," says Hopewell, adding that there is a winter farmers' market as well.
The arts community is also thriving in Kalamazoo. Whether it's a night with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, a stroll through the exhibits at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts or winding down with local musicians under the lights strung across Bates Alley, live entertainment isn't hard to find. Places like WMU's Miller Auditorium and the State Theatre also offer the chance to see nationally touring productions and concerts.
Many venues—like the KIA, Miller Auditorium and the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre—also give student discounts, making world-class entertainment even more accessible.
West Michigan is fortunate to see all four seasons, and there are opportunities to explore the beauty of nature during each one of them in Kalamazoo.
"Whether it be the water trails or hiking trails or biking trails, people love the outdoor recreation, and I think we've got a really interesting mix of having outdoor recreation so close to our urban core," Newman says.
Hopewell, an avid bike rider, agrees.
"The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and it also connects Kalamazoo with surrounding areas."
That connection will expand in September when the first route on the Great Lake-to-Lake Trails opens, connecting nature trails from South Haven to Port Huron. An inaugural, weeklong ride across the state, which goes through Kalamazoo, is scheduled Sept. 13-19.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
"People that are new to campus and new to Kalamazoo I think would be surprised to learn about the world-class attractions we have here in the Kalamazoo area," says Newman.
"Everything from the Air Zoo, which is the only aviation museum of its kind anywhere in the country, to the Gilmore Car Museum, which has been rated the top automotive museum in the country, to the Kalamazoo Nature Center, which was rated the top nature center by its peers."
Kalamazoo is also home to the Gibson guitar factory which now houses Heritage Guitar Inc. Plans are in the works for a multi million-dollar renovation that will add a live music venue and recording studio, among other attractions.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.