Joe Engel, left, of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Jason Meyer of Blandford Nature Center stand together at The Highlands golf course in northwest Grand Rapids. Courtesy Land Conservancy of West Michigan
A pair of local partners have purchased a former 121-acre golf course in town and plan to turn the property into a natural area with community recreation and educational opportunities.
Blandford Nature Center obtained a $3-million short-term loan to purchase The Highlands golf club in Grand Rapids, at 2715 Leonard St. NW.
Blandford and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan will work to secure funding for repayment of the loan issued by The Conservation Fund in Arlington, Virginia and for efforts to improve and transform the property.
When the loan is paid off in full, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan will take ownership of a portion of the land.
Blandford Nature Center President and CEO Jason Meyer said the property offers an “extraordinary opportunity to foster a stronger connection to the natural world,” noting the opportunities for habitat restoration, education, volunteerism and recreation will increase the quality of life in Grand Rapids “for generations.”
“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, Blandford Nature Center. “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.”
The initial phase of the project includes the land acquisition, biodiversity studies and preparing for public access. Following a period allowing for community input, the second phase will launch habitat restoration projects, trail development and other public programs.
The Land Conservancy of West Michigan is taking the fundraising lead for the transformation project, an effort Executive Director Joe Engel said is off to a “great start,” having received grants from the Ken and Judy Betz Family, The Wege Foundation and Cook Foundation, as well as a $400,000 grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Charles Evenson Fund for the Environment.
“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,” Engel said.
Third Coast Development
Grand Rapids-based Third Coast Development had initially entered into a purchase contract for the more than 100-year-old golf club last July, marking the property for a possible housing development. However, Third Coast Principal Brad Rosely said those plans were scrapped following conversations with Blandford.
“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,” Rosely said.
Established in 1908, The Highlands golf club was re-designed by course architect Donald Ross in 1916.
The Highlands was the site of a Senior PGA Tour event from 1986 to 1993, featuring a host of golf legends, including Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
A nonprofit based in Grand Rapids, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan works to protect, enjoy and care for natural land in the region.
Dating back to 1976, the Land Conservancy has protected 136 natural areas encompassing more than 10,000 acres in Kent, Ottawa, Allegan, Newaygo, Muskegon, Oceana, Mason and Lake counties.
With a stated mission of engaging and empowering the Grand Rapids community through nature experiences, Blandford Nature Center is an independent nonprofit.
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.