GRAND RAPIDS — Blandford Nature Center has launched a $6.6 million project to turn the former Highlands Golf Club property back to nature.
The Grand Rapids-based nonprofit, which acquired the 121-acre site on West Leonard Street for $3.5 million in 2017, as MiBiz was first to report, is now turning its attention to demolishing the former clubhouse on the property. Blandford plans to construct a pavilion in its place and complete habitat restoration on the rest of the site, which is adjacent to Blandford.
“This offers our entire community an opportunity to get closer to nature,” Blandford President and CEO Jason Meyer told MiBiz.
The City of Grand Rapids in late August approved the demolition, which is expected to wrap up in mid-October, according to Blandford’s application. Three Grand Rapids-based firms are working on the demolition: Rockford Construction Co. Inc., Prein & Newhof and Pitsch Co.
These projects mark the second phase of restoration at the Highlands property. The Grand Rapids-based Land Conservancy of West Michigan previously raised $5 million for the project. Now that the mortgage is paid off for the golf course property, Blandford will focus on making it usable for the public.
That includes adding a playscape and new trails, some of which are handicap accessible. The largest part of the projects are habitat restoration, which includes adding wetlands and wildlife habitat and opening a stream that was previously buried. The organization is performing the habitat restoration in partnership with the Land Conservancy.
“They helped us with all the fundraising to pay off the mortgage in phase one, but now they’re managing all of the habitat restoration that’s happening on the property,” Meyer said. “We could not do this project without them.”
Along with fundraising, Blandford received a variety of other funding through grants and government entities, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Meyer said.
The addition of the Highlands property makes Blandford one of the largest urban nature centers in the country at a total of 264 acres, according to Meyer. It also allows for the expansion of programming and opportunities to explore nature.
The land will increase Blandford’s summer camp capacity by 40 percent, and allow it to offer new school and community programs.
“Also on this property, you will be able to get off trails, go explore and really get in touch with nature,” Meyer said. “(It also includes) new projects and new opportunities for people to come out and visit and enjoy.”
Meyer estimated it will take about two or three years to restore the Highlands property.