Grand Rapids Gets a Little Greener


It isn’t often that there is an opportunity to create a significant green space in a growing community. And as Grand Rapids continues to the lead the state in population and housing growth, there remains a need for green space in the forms of parks, nature preserves and other undeveloped areas. It’s part of what makes a place magnetic—attractive to newcomers and able retain longtime residents.

When it came to our attention that Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan had the opportunity to purchase The Highlands Golf Club, we wanted to help make it happen. We’re fortunate in that 1988, Charles Evenson left us a large bequest—$3.2 million from his estate. An avid nature lover—Mr. Evenson made his fortune as the president and owner of Michigan Wheel Corporation one of the world’s largest boat propeller manufacturers. His gift provided the funds for a $400,000 grant award to purchase the property.

The Highlands had initially been proposed as a housing development. However, thanks to a partnership between the two local conservation organizations, a forward-looking developer and local philanthropy, the land will be preserved and protected for the people of Grand Rapids forever. Other philanthropy partners include the Ken and Judy Betz Family, the Wege Foundation and the Cook Foundation. Third Coast Development and Pioneer Construction are also financially supporting the project.

The property was acquired by Blandford Nature Center, in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, with a loan from The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund is an Arlington, VA – based nonprofit organization that enables local communities to protect properties for wildlife and recreation. In this case, Blandford Nature Center has obtained a $3 million short-term loan to purchase the property.  Blandford will work with the Land Conservancy, and the community, to secure funding for repayment of the loan and create plans for future use and improvement of the property.

“It is a rare opportunity that we are able to help create a significant green space in the city, especially next to Blandford Nature Center. We were excited about this project from the beginning and are pleased to be part of it. This restored natural area will be an important part of Grand Rapids long into the future, said Diana Sieger, president of the Community Foundation.