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Blandford Nature Center breathes new life into Highlands Golf Course with plans for recreation space




After operating for more than 100 years as a private golf course, The Highlands Golf Course at 2715 Leonard St. NW was back on the market, with the new proposed land use initially leaning toward a housing development.

However, thanks to a partnership between Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan with support from Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit The Conservation Fund, Blandford Nature Center obtained a $3 million short-term loan to purchase the 121-acre property. With the funding, Blandford plans to transform it into a new community green space for recreation and education.

“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,” says Jason Meyer, president and CEO of Blandford Nature Center, an independent, charitable non-profit that has a mission to “engage and empower the community through enriching experiences in nature.”

Joe Engel, Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, says moving forward, Blandford will work alongside his organization and the surrounding community to secure funding for the repayment of the loans and continue with 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,” says Engel, whose organization will be taking the lead role in raising funds for the 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.”

Third Coast Development and Pioneer Construction initially obtained an option to purchase the golf course to build condominiums and homes on the site, but the companies are now working alongside both land conservationists to help financially back Blandford’s 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,” says Brad Rosely, partner at Third Coast Development.

The project’s first phase will include land acquisition, biodiversity studies, and preparation for initial public access while working to pay off the short-term loan, at which point the Land Conservancy will take ownership of a portion of the property. After gathering input from the surrounding community, the second phase will be the launch of habitat restoration projects, trail development, and public programs.

Mary Jane Dockeray, founder of Blandford Nature Center and former board member of the Land Conservancy, says the old Highlands Golf Course represents Blandford Nature Center’s last and only chance to expand in Grand Rapids and create additional educational and recreational opportunities not available elsewhere in the city.

“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,” she says.

Visit Blandford Nature Center here on Facebook, or find Blandford online at blandfordnaturecenter.org.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Blandford Nature Center
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