Nonprofit opens fundraising campaign for 121-acre nature area

A pair of girls explore at The Highlands in Grand Rapids, a 121-acre nature area. Courtesy The Highlands

A nonprofit is launching the public phase of a fundraising campaign to restore an ex-golf course back to nature.

The Grand Rapids-based Land Conservancy of West Michigan will open the public phase of a $5.3-million, phase-one campaign to restore the former Highlands Golf Course property with a kickoff event on June 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

It will take place on the property, which is now called The Highlands, at 2715 Leonard St. NW, and is a natural area open to the public from sunrise to sunset.

“(This) marks our final push toward securing and protecting this incredible and rare gift to the greater Grand Rapids community,” said Joe Engel, executive director, Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

“We are excited about transforming this 121-acre urban area into a premier natural space, adjacent to Blandford Nature Center, fee-free, accessible to all and as venue for young and old to experience healthy outdoor activities, environmental education and stewardship of nature — all right in our backyard.”

The kickoff event will include guided hikes, food, music from a local bagpipe and drum ensemble and activities for children and families.

The Land Conservancy will launch a “sponsor a square foot” program at the event, where community members will have the opportunity to donate money to claim their own symbolic square foot of The Highlands.


The total budget for the first phase of the campaign is $5.3 million.

Of that sum, $4.3 million has already been raised with help from various donors and foundations: including the Judy and Kenneth Betz Family; Peter C. & Emajean Cook Foundation; Frey Foundation Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Third Coast Development; The Wege Foundation; and Wolverine Worldwide Foundation.

The $5.3-million goal includes the $3.5-million purchase price of the property, a long-term stewardship and maintenance fund, planning for phase two and other campaign costs.

Once phase one is complete, phase two will be launched to put the master plan for restoration in place.

The Highlands history

The Highlands is a partnership between the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Grand Rapids-based Blandford Nature Center.

In February 2017, Blandford Nature Center acquired the 121-acre Highlands Golf Club with a loan from The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund is a national nonprofit that helps local communities achieve their conservation goals.

Last summer and fall, Blandford and the Land Conservancy gathered input from the community to begin creating a master plan for restoration of the property.

Now, the organizations are working with the community to complete the necessary funding to re-pay the loan, securing the property for its complete transformation into a natural space for community recreation and education.

Land Conservancy

Founded in 1976, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan is dedicated to helping people protect, enjoy and care for natural land.

The Land Conservancy has protected 145 natural areas covering 11,000 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

Founded in 1965, Blandford Nature Center is a nonprofit with a stated mission of engaging and empowering the Grand Rapids community through nature experiences.

The center provides access to 143 acres of natural land, including more than four miles of trails.

The center also hosts educational classes, festivals and camps.

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