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Blandford Nature Center celebrates Earth Day with grand opening of new visitor venue






When Blandford Nature Center began designing its new 11,000-square-foot visitor center, it intentionally left out the kind of museum-style features often seen in more traditional nature center welcome spaces. Instead, the center wanted the space to serve a more practical role in the organization’s cardinal mission to connect more people with more nature. 

“A building doesn’t make a nature center; the nature does,” says Jason Meyer, President and CEO of Blandford Nature Center (BNC). “We settled on the idea that the the building is just one more tool in our toolbox for getting people to connect with nature, and so we didn’t really want to incorporate dead stuffed animals and a lot of those physical displays that you might see in older nature centers.” 

A crowd of nearly 400 people came out for the Earth Day ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of the new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center grand opening, hearing remarks from the building’s namesake, BNC Founder Mary Jane Dockeray, as well as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Costing $3.3 million of the total $10 million in funds currently raised in the final stretches of a larger $10.3 million campaign launched in fall 2014, the new LEED-certified visitor center includes an open interior lobby with a stone fireplace, a large auditorium, an outdoor amphitheater, and an upgraded Wildlife Education Center showcasing decorative wood features made from trees that were already harvested as part of the construction process. 

Initially built in 1968, BNC’s former visitor center was outdated, lacking in handicap accessible design and generally overdue for an update, says Meyer. The organization decided to move forward with a fundraising campaign to afford park upgrades after the center began having to turn away local school groups interesting in doing programming because of insufficient space.

With its fundraising campaign slated to wrap up this summer, Meyer says Blandford Nature Center is looking forward to turning its focus to an even bigger renovation project — restoring the 121-acre Highlands Golf Course at 2175 Leonard St. NW, which BNC purchased back in January in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. 

With the Land Conservancy of West Michigan currently heading up some of the initial fundraising, the two organizations are starting to explore how best to transform the new acreage into a public green space that enhances both Blandford’s educational programming and outdoor recreational opportunities, first focusing on restoring the lands natural habitat. 

“A lot of it is habitat restoration. We want to put types of habitat back that are gone from this part of Michigan,” Meyer says, adding that plans include the addition of new trail ways connecting back to the nature center’s existing trail system. 

Meyer says restoring an outdoor recreation space that effectively double Blandford’s outdoor green space, however, requires a bit of al lengthier process than the construction of a new visitor center, relying the slow inedibility of nature to take its course in regrowth. 

“It’s going to be a 50- to 100-year project,” Meyer says, ”And folks will be able to see that change over time that happens with nature reclaiming itself.” 

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

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