An historic real-estate transaction for Grand Rapids was announced in early 2017 when Blandford Nature Center teamed with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan to acquire the 121-acre former Highlands Golf Course next door to Blandford. Adding the golf course’s 18 golf holes to Blandford brings the Nature Center’s permanently preserved green space to 264 acres all open to the public and within the city of Grand Rapids..
Instead of being developed into homes and condos, the century-old golf course will be converted back to a natural state that includes thriving wetlands and natural wildlife habitats. The new land will allow Blandford to expand its outdoor educational programs that now host two Grand Rapids Public Schools, Blandford School and the C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy.
Brad Rosely, the real estate developer who orchestrated the sale, summarized the significance of the deed transfer. “Developments come and go, but this will be there forever.”
The Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Ken and Judy Betz family, and the Cook Foundation made the lead gifts toward buying the Highlands. Now Blandford is reaching out to the community to support this once-in- a-lifetime opportunity with donations of their own to help pay off the remaining debt on the property. Jason Meyer, Blandford’s president and CEO, hopes the citizens of Grand Rapids, like the lead donors, will recognize the long-term benefits of this land acquisition.
Jason Meyer noted that while the groomed golf course will soon return to nature, the habitat and wildlife restoration will happen over years. “What people are investing today, they might not even see what it becomes. But they’re caring for a place for future generations.”
For The Wege Foundation, this property has special meaning as it is physically connected to Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic School headed by Father Mark Przybysz, the late Peter Wege’s priest and close friend. Peter Wege took pride in rebuilding Father Mark’s rectory as a pioneering LEED certified smart home, building LEED classrooms for the school, and installing solar panels and a wind turbine. Now two of Peter’s good causes are next-door neighbors.