The Land Conservancy of West Michigan has completed its phase one campaign for The Highlands, a 121-acre former golf course that’s being converted to a nature area.
With support from the community, the acquisition of The Highlands property, at 2715 Leonard St. NW, and its initial restoration projects have been funded. The Land Conservancy said the parcel’s future as “a premier space for learning, recreation and conservation” is now secure.
“We are incredibly grateful to the community and donors who have made phase one of The Highlands project a success,” said Joe Engel, executive director at the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. “We are looking forward to a bright — and green — future for this vibrant natural space here in Grand Rapids.”
The Highlands is a partnership between the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Blandford Nature Center. Both organizations are dedicated to preservation, education and making natural spaces available to everyone in Grand Rapids.
When the Highlands Golf Club went up for sale, the two organizations saw it as an opportunity to transform the land into an accessible urban refuge.
In January 2017, Blandford Nature Center acquired The Highlands with a loan from The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund is a national nonprofit that helps communities achieve conservation goals.
“Had Blandford Nature Center not been able to step in with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and acquire this property, it would be turning into a housing development right now,” said Jason Meyer, president and CEO of Blandford Nature Center. “We are grateful to the Land Conservancy for their hard work on the phase one campaign.”
The Land Conservancy of West Michigan spearheaded the campaign to raise over $5 million to cover the purchase of the property, a long-term restoration and management fund, miscellaneous campaign costs and the master plan for phase two.
“We asked the community to show their support for this project that will provide Grand Rapids families opportunities to engage in healthy outdoor activities and environmental education,” campaign co-chair David Morgenstern said. “They responded resoundingly.”
Phase two will focus on implementing the master plan for the property — including installing trails, building a pavilion, adding wetlands and wildlife habitat and opening up a stream long buried beneath the east end of the property.
“We’re excited that the foundation has now been laid for phase two, where the community’s collective vision for The Highlands will come to life,” campaign co-chair Marti O’Brien said.
The Highlands is the first and only neighborhood-based natural space in northwest Grand Rapids that is free and open to the public, according to Blandford and The Land Conservancy.
Its main entrance on Leonard Street is on The Rapid bus line.
“For years, expanding Blandford Nature Center to include the 121 acres that made up the former Highlands Golf Club was a pipe dream,” said Mary Jane Dockeray, founder of Blandford Nature Center and campaign co-chair. “To see it transform into a natural area to be appreciated and used by all Grand Rapids citizens is a gift.”
There will be a public celebration of the completion of phase one at The Highlands from 6:30-8:30 p.m. June 20. The event will feature guided hikes, music by AnDro, ice cream and more.
Phase one of The Highlands project was funded by the Judy & Kenneth Betz Family, CDV5 Foundation, Consumers Energy Foundation, Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation, Frey Foundation Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, REI, The Conservation Fund, Third Coast Development, Wege Foundation, Wolverine Worldwide Foundation and more.
Michigan business leaders are banding together to call on lawmakers to pass policies that ensure safe, sufficient and clean water from source to tap.
Businesses for Clean Water, a new campaign designed to communicate the economic costs of water quality and the economic benefits of improving Michigan’s pipes and pollution controls, launched recently at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids. The national nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) organized the campaign.
“Clean Water is crucial to our business,” said Kris Spaulding, who co-owns Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf Local Beer in Kentwood with husband Jason Spaulding. “That’s why we support smart policies that work to protect the Great Lakes and our drinking water.”
According to E2, Michigan agricultural businesses that rely on, and impact, clean water provide more than 923,000 jobs. This includes suppliers to 129 wineries and over 200 microbreweries in the state.
“Water is the lifeblood of Michigan’s economy and environment,” E2 Executive Director Bob Keefe said. “Businesses in every industry depend on clean water. If the state doesn’t do more to clean up old pipes, address pollution like PFAS and protect drinking water from source to tap, all of Michigan suffers.”
Clean water also is key to Michigan’s outdoor tourism industry, which accounts for over 232,000 jobs and $26.6 billion in consumer spending. The state creates more than 171,000 jobs and $11.2 billion in annual revenue just from fishing and hunting.
“Michigan knows what can happen if we don’t do more to protect our drinking water. It impacts people, it impacts businesses and it impacts the economy of our state,” said Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.
The Business for Clean Water website will host resources that document the economic benefits of clean water in Michigan, as well as organize events, collaborate on publications and share ways to get involved.
Michigan’s next state superintendent has been chosen.
Michael Rice, superintendent for Kalamazoo Public Schools, will start the position this summer.
The state superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day management, supervision and leadership of the Michigan Department of Education, including developing cooperative working relationships to further board policy and Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 Years strategic plan for improving education.
His annual salary will be $216,000.
Rice has been in his current role since 2007. Previously, he was superintendent of the Clifton Public Schools in Clifton, New Jersey, for five years.
He was president of Michigan’s urban schools association, the Middle Cities Education Association, in 2013-14.
He won the Michigan Superintendent of the Year Award from the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators in 2016.
Rice began his career as a high school French teacher and award-winning speech and debate program founder and coach for Washington, D.C. Public Schools.
He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with honors from Yale University and a master’s degree and doctorate in public administration with honors from New York University.
“Dr. Rice has a stellar reputation in the state of Michigan; he’s been in Kalamazoo for 12 years and has out-of-state experience, as well,” said Casandra Ulbrich, state board president. “I think the combination of his experience and how well he did in the interviews really put him a step above.”
He serves on a number of boards, commissions and committees, including the Middle Cities Executive Committee; the MASA state school reform commission; the steering and technical committee of the state School Finance Research Collaborative; the AASA Social and Emotional Learning Cohort, which he co-chairs; and the board and executive committee of Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo.