In partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids officially opened “the Highlands,” Thursday, a 121-acre nature preserve adjacent to the center. Originally opened as a golf course over one hundred years ago, the sprawling 121-acre piece of land will now be a sanctuary of untouched West Michigan countryside, and a place for visitors to get out and explore in its natural state. Joe Engel, executive director, of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan says, the chance to keep the land from being developed into housing was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“Well as you know probably know, almost always, once land is gone, consumed by development or urban sprawl, it’s gone,” Engel said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to reclaim land that was frankly 107 years ago, given up, to an urban landscape or a golf course, you know the long term plans for this are to indeed protect in perpetuity as a 121-acre natural space right here in the city of Grand Rapids which we are incredibly excited about,” he said.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area was the fastest growing economy in the nation last year, and according to the US Census Bureau more people moved to Kent County than any other in the State in 2016. As the city continues to expand and more housing will need to be built, Engel says there is a need to preserve portions of West Michigan from being developed.
“To your point, we are going to need to redouble our efforts to make sure we have green space to meet the needs of people that are going to come here, but one the other hand the fact that we can protect 121 acres like this is going to draw people regionally if not nationally, so it’s going to make this a real exciting city to be from on a lot of different levels, and hopefully the green space that we have to offer is a really big part of that,” Engel said.
The Highlands now doubles the size of the nature center’s property. While Third Coast Development initially intended to build condominiums and homes on the old golf course, the developer changed its mind after talking to the Blandford Center.