The Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Blandford Nature Center are partnering to transform the 121-acre former Highlands Golf Club in northwest Grand Rapids into a natural area for community recreation and education. The property adjoins Blandford and the purchase will essentially double the size of Nature Center’s property.
In early 2017, the Highlands Golf Club was put on the market, ending its 100+ year history as a private golf course. The property was purchased by Third Coast Development for the construction of a condominium project and single-family homes. Instead of moving forward with the housing plans, the developer subsequently resold the property to the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Blandford Nature Center. “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 Third Coast.
The property was acquired with a $3 million short-term loan from The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization that helps local communities achieve their conservation goals. As the property begins its transformation, Blandford and the Land Conservancy will be working with the community to create a plan, make improvements on the property and secure the necessary funding to repay the loan. When the mortgage paid in full, the Land Conservancy will take ownership of a portion of the property. The first phase of the Highlands project includes biodiversity studies and preparation for initial public access. The second phase, using input from community meetings and surveys, will be the launch of habitat restoration projects, trail development, and public programs.
“We are off to a great start, with generous pledges from the Ken and Judy Betz Family, the Wege Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the (Peter C. and Emajean) Cook Foundation,” explained Joe Engel, Executive Director for the Land Conservancy, noting that “this is truly a community project. 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.” The Land Conservancy will be taking the lead role in raising funds for this project.
“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.”
“Imagine what it will be like to be able to take a walk out there and listen to the birds, enjoy the wildflowers, or just to sit and have a picnic with your friends and family,” remarked Jason Meyer, President and CEO of Blandford Nature Center. “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.”
“This project provides a big boost to our community’s efforts to ensure quality of life for all of our residents,” 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.”
This project made possible with support from the Judy and Kenneth Betz Family, Consumers Energy Foundation, Frey Foundation Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Third Coast Development, Wege Foundation and Wolverine Worldwide Foundation.
For more information and to stay up to date as work and plans progress, visit The Land Conservancy’s Highlands page.