Highlands Golf Club Given New Life as a Future Natural Area
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – February 6, 2017 – Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan have collaborated on the purchase of the 121-acre Highlands Golf Club in Grand Rapids to transform the property into a natural area for community recreation and education.
The Highlands Golf Club had recently been put on the market after a 100-plus-year history as a private golf course. The property had initially been proposed as a housing development. However, thanks to a partnership between these two local conservation organizations, a forward-looking developer and local philanthropy the land will be preserved and protected for the people of Grand Rapids forever.
The property was acquired by Blandford Nature Center, in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, with a loan from The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund is an Arlington, VA – based nonprofit organization that enables local communities to protect properties for wildlife and recreation. In this case, Blandford Nature Center has obtained a $3 million short-term loan to purchase the property. Blandford will work with the Land Conservancy, and the community, to secure funding for repayment of the loan and create plans for future use and improvement of the property.
“We are off to a great start, with generous grants from the Ken and Judy Betz Family, the Wege Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Cook Foundation. We look forward to continued support from the entire community to help bring this project to fruition as it transforms from golf course to natural area,” said Joe Engel, Executive Director for the Land Conservancy. The Land Conservancy will be taking the lead role in raising funds for this project.
Third Coast Development and Pioneer Construction are also financially supporting the project. “Once we started talking to Blandford about the future of the property, we realized that sometimes development needs to take a back seat to an idea that benefits our entire community,” said Brad Rosely of Third Coast, which initially obtained an option to purchase the golf club to build condominiums and homes on the site.
“The Highlands offers an extraordinary opportunity to foster a stronger connection to the natural world through habitat restoration, environmental education, volunteerism, and recreation—all things that will make sure that our city is a great place to learn, live, play and work for generations,” said Jason Meyer, president and CEO of Blandford Nature Center. “This is our last and only chance to expand Blandford Nature Center and create additional educational and recreational opportunities not available anywhere else in the city and West Michigan,” said Mary Jane Dockeray, founder of Blandford Nature Center and former board member of the Land Conservancy. “The community of Grand Rapids has been waiting patiently for something like this to come along—we will be able to serve more students, families, and friends as a result.”
The first phase of the Highlands project includes land acquisition, biodiversity studies, and preparation for initial public access. Once the short-term loan is paid off, the Land Conservancy will take ownership of a portion of the property. The second phase, after gathering input from the community, will be the launch of habitat restoration projects, trail development, and public programs.
Additional comments from Community Leaders
Father Mark Przybysz, Pastor at St. Anthony’s of Padua which borders the property’s northeast corner, noted how important a piece of land like this is for the whole community. “Access to nature and the out-of-doors is so important to our youth, our families, and to our health,” remarked Father Pryzbysz. “Peter Wege, a former parishioner and good friend, dedicated his life to environmental and conservation causes, and would be grinning from ear to ear to know that the Wege Foundation could be a part of bringing science to life in a way that allows kids to really get excited about what they are learning.”
“This project provides a big boost to our community’s efforts to ensure quality of life for all of our residents,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “It also offers a rare opportunity to create significant green space and focused tree canopy in the city – priorities for our community as we work to make sure this is a great place for everyone for generations to come.”
Diana Sieger, president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation noted that the $400,000 grant to the project was from the Foundation’s Charles Evenson Fund for the Environment. “It is a rare opportunity that we are able to help create a significant green space in the city, especially next to Blandford Nature Center. We were excited about this project from the beginning and are pleased to be part of it. This restored natural area will be an important part of Grand Rapids long into the future.” It is the largest Community Foundation grant so far this year.
“Grand Rapids Public Schools has a very close and longstanding relationship with Blandford Nature Center so you can only imagine the excitement we have in learning about this remarkable new development,” said Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. “While our students at C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy and Blandford School count Blandford as part of their classroom, each and every student in 1st and 3rd grade at GRPS enjoy Blandford, which is supported by the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation. Now, thanks to the Land Conservancy, the leadership of Jason Meyer and his staff and board at Blandford, and the generous support of donors from across the community, our students, teachers, and the general public will have this new and expanded opportunity to enjoy.”
With roots reaching back to 1976, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan has the mission of helping people protect, enjoy and care for natural land. The Land Conservancy has protected 136 natural areas covering over 10,000 acres in Kent, Ottawa, Allegan, Ottawa, Newaygo, Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, and Lake counties. Among other projects, the Land Conservancy partnered with the city of Saugatuck to permanently protect the 300-acre Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.
Blandford Nature Center’s mission is to engage and empower the community through enriching experiences in nature. It is an independent, charitable non-profit that believes children and adults learn best through personal experience. Their job, and their passion, is to invite the community to get their hands dirty in nature!