I was excited to get a chance to tour Hastings (population 7,095) and Barry County, MI. Not only was Hastings one of my top 100 agurbs® but the county was also home to one of the three Schultz named towns in the country, just a couple of miles south and west of Hastings. Everything lived up to expectations except that Schultz, MI couldn’t even be called a “wide spot in the road” and since it is listed as the largest Schultz I’m not sure that I want to visit either Schultz, WV or WI. To add insult to injury the only sign around listed it as Shultz Road, obviously misspelling a grand name!
Hastings has a wonderful downtown with many local shops, a brew pub and other attractions. Other towns in the county include Middleville, Nashville, Woodbury, Freeport and others that I visited on my tour. All were equally quaint and with thriving downtowns.
Barry County is truly a county of lakes, with 367 named natural lakes that are attracting a lot of residents. Gun Lake, with 2,600 acres of water, is the largest lake in southern Michigan, followed by Gull Lake with 2,000 acres of water. On the tour I learned that Gun Lake was historically considered a blue-collar lake with over half of the homes strictly summer cabins. Gull Lake was an upper-end lake with some homes valued at $3 and $4 million. Property values on each lake are climbing with Gun at $3,000 to $4,000/linear foot of shoreline and Gull at $12,000 to $16,000/foot.
The lakes and over 20,000 acres of public lands in Barry County are attracting lots of residents. From 1990 to 2006 the county grew by 19.7%. One of the downsides of that growth was the fact that 59.2% of Barry County’s residents work out of the county, putting them at the 281st highest percentage county in the country out of 3,141. Almost 7,000 of them drive the 40 miles each way to Grand Rapids to work.
Barry County is working diligently to create more local jobs and needs to bring their number of commuters out of the county down for the long term benefit of everyone.