WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Called the crown jewel of the Kent County parks system, Millennium Park was filled with people biking, walking and playing Wednesday — just as Peter Secchia would have wanted.

“It’s nice to get away. Quiet, peaceful,” parkgoer Heidi Doezema said.

Kerri Nykamp went to Millennium to paint, saying the beauty of the park was inspiring.

“This is — Peter’s words — for the average Joe to hang out, and I think he liked seeing families being able to experience time together, play together, barbecue together and hang out,” Kent County Parks Foundation Chairman Jim Conner said.

Secchia, a former U.S. ambassador, businessman and philanthropist who died Wednesday at the age of 83, was among those who in 2000 came up with the idea for the massive park situated on the Grand Rapids-Walker border. Secchia knew such a large project would need an organization to raise and manage its money, so he created the Kent County Parks Foundation.

“Peter was the driving force behind Millennium Park,” Conner said. “He did it, he did it well.”

Using his political and private connections, Conner said, Secchia championed the cause the way only he could have, pulling people together to create a park unlike any other in our area. Now, the former site of gypsum mines is now a park covering 1,400 acres of rolling terrain, including 6 miles of riverfront, 6 acres of beach, playgrounds and boat rentals, and 18 miles of trails.

“The idea that Millennium Park is as big as it is, located as close to the city like it is, we’ve got to protect it and expand it if we can and carry on Peter’s vision and legacy,” Conner said.

The park also features a statue of Secchia, which was dedicated last year. It was a gift from his late friend Rich Devos, the co-founder of Amway, who Secchia says taught him the principles of giving.

“We got big shoes to fill here today and it kind of gives me chills thinking that because we’ve really lost great leaders that have really formed the foundation of our community as it is and we have got to pick up that extra weight now,” Conner said. “The load is heavy, but we will make sure that we will make Peter proud in the future.”

A statue of Peter Secchia in Millennium Park. (Oct. 21, 2020)