Our mission and vision
The mission of Blandford is to engage and empower our community through enriching experiences in nature. Our vision is a thriving, diverse community that supports a healthy, natural world.
What we believe in
Inclusion: Intentionally welcoming and embracing everyone.
Stewardship: Responsibly using and caring for all our resources.
Integrity: Demonstrating honesty, authenticity and transparency within our organization and community.
Experiential: Providing opportunities to enjoy, explore and learn in nature.
Partnership: Connecting and collaborating to effectively serve our community.
Innovation: Using creativity and curiosity to continuously improve.
Educate. Engage. Empower.
We let visitors get their hands dirty.
We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose job and passion is to invite our community to enjoy, explore, and learn in nature. We make this happen by allowing our visitors to get their hands dirty—whether that be standing knee-high in water to learn about stream ecology or planting squash seeds to start a garden. This is accomplished through an active outdoor environmental lab, a team of passionate, knowledgeable people and a strong link from past to future promoting sustainability. Blandford offers a wide variety of experiences to support our mission and vision through dynamic partnerships and innovative programming for all ages.
The place now known as Blandford Nature Center began as Collins Woods, part of the Collins family farm. It was the place Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray explored as a child and nurtured her love of the outdoors. In time, Victor Blandford purchased the farm from the Collins family and began to sell it off as lots.
In 1949, Mary Jane began working for the Grand Rapids Public Museum as a nature lecturer. Eventually, Mary Jane convinced the Blandford family to donate 17 acres to the museum for the development of a nature center, and she became the curator. In 1965, the Museum Association helped seek the funds necessary for building a visitor center, which opened in 1968.
Over time, Mary Jane found state dollars to purchase more land, bringing the Grand Rapids city-owned land to a current total of 264 acres with our recent acquisition of the former Highlands golf course with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. In 2003, Blandford seceded from the Grand Rapids Public Museum and entered its early years. It was managed by Grand Rapids Public Schools for four years and in 2007, merged with Mixed Greens.
In 2009, the Wege Foundation provided five years of funding for an Executive Director to stabilize the organization and rebuild it as an asset for the community. Blandford Nature Center has been a thriving independent, charitable 501(c)(3) nonprofit ever since.
Remembering Mary Jane
It is with profound sadness that we share that our beloved founder, Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray, has passed away peacefully at the age of 93.
“Mary Jane was a local icon in our community,” said Bill Faber, Board Chair of Blandford Nature Center. “The world was changed through her work not only because she preserved over 143 acres of habitat in the City of Grand Rapids, but because she inspired so many children and adults to fall in love with nature and do their part to protect nature too.” She was a leader in environmental education. After graduating from Michigan State College with degrees in geology and environmental education, she worked as the Curator of Natural History at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. She visited schools, educating students about natural sciences and the environment. She authored the book “Let’s Go Exploring: Suggestions for Field Trips and Associated Studies in Environmental-Conservation Education.” Dockeray also wrote and produced a film titled “These Things Are Ours” viewed throughout the United States and Canada as part of lecture tours for the National Audubon Society.
The creation of Blandford Nature Center and the Blandford Environmental Education Program were spearheaded by Mary Jane. The Center now encompasses 264 acres of diverse habitats, an interpretive center, farm demonstrations and several historic buildings. It was a lifetime dream to acquire the addition of the Highlands Golf Course, which was accomplished in 2017 in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. For more than fifty years, Mary Jane could be found almost every day at the Center talking with school children, adults, and families about nature trails, wildlife and history of the Center.
“It’s important to recognize the fact Blandford Nature Center literally would not have come into existence over 50 years ago without her,” said Jason Meyer, president/CEO of Blandford Nature Center. “There will never be another Mary Jane Dockeray and her impact will be felt for generations. If we all followed Mary Jane’s example the world would be a much different, and better, place.”
Mary Jane received numerous awards, including the Michigan Audubon Society Outstanding Member Award. She was also inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Most recently, she received the inaugural Association of Nature Center Administrators’ President’s Award for exemplary leadership in the Nature and Environmental Learning Center Profession. The Mary Jane Dockeray Scholarship fund was established at Grand Valley State University to recognize outstanding high school seniors planning on science careers.
“Mary Jane’s awards are too vast and far-reaching to list,” said City of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss “She did not measure her success by awards, she measured it by the smiles on children’s faces, the curiosity and questions of visitors and the volume of frog calls in the evening. Her passion, energy and heart for our community will be greatly missed.”
Mary Jane has asked that donations be made to the Mary Jane Dockeray Endowment at Blandford Nature Center. Please indicate that your gift is in memory of Mary Jane Dockeray.
Enjoy a walk through Heritage Village with buildings as old as 1853. These historical buildings provide the perfect background for photos and programs. The buildings are closed weekdays and weekends during business hours, however, they are open with interpreters during festivals & events such as Sugarbush Festival, Earth Day, and more.