ODC opens crowdfunded natural play space

On a recent sunny fall day, students from the Seedlings Discovery Preschool ran through a paper-chain ribbon to officially open the new Sally Smoly Nature Playscape at Holland’s Window on the Waterfront. 

The students had made the paper-chain themselves in anticipation of the ceremony. 

Green play space

Despite its many amenities, downtown Holland does not have a greenspace for children to play until now. The ODC-run preschool is located nearby at Pillar Church and will use the natural playscape as part of its daily classroom activities. 

A crowd of more than 100 people joined the ODC to officially open the park to the community. 
Representatives from key partners including the city of Holland and GMB A/E were in attendance.

“We have been so pleased with how the community has taken to the park,” says Dave Nyitray President/Chief Operating Officer of the Outdoor Discovery Center Network.


The project brought together the business, nonprofit, and municipal sectors with the public. Although the lead gift donor wanted to remain anonymous, they also wanted to recognize a family member with the gift. Thus, the Sally Smoly Nature Playscape came to be.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. provided a $50,000 matching grant for the play park. The match came from crowdfunding site Patronicity, in which local residents can use crowdfunding to be a part of the development of strategic projects in their communities and be backed with a matching grant from MEDC. 

This is the first time the ODC has attempted crowdfunding with Patronicity and the MEDC. It has never crowdfunded money on this scale before, Nyitray says.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy. 


The Public Spaces Community Places initiative started in 2014 with MEDC providing matched funding of up to $50,000 for community improvement projects throughout Michigan. Since the launch of the program, more than 260 projects have been successful in reaching their goal, with nearly $10 million raised from almost 50,000 individual donors. The MEDC has provided more than $8.4 million in matching grants.

“Activating underused spaces and creating more vibrant and inclusive public places is what our program is all about,” says MEDC Senior Vice President of Community Development Michele Wildman. 

In total, the ODC raised more than $400,000 to complete the construction of its natural playscape. 

More to come

The ODC Network is also working to complete two more nature playscapes at Hamilton Community Schools. For more information on nature playscapes, visit outdoordiscovery.org/play.

Public Spaces Community Places is a collaborative effort of the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League, and Patronicity.

Communities, nonprofits and other business entities can apply at patronicity.com/puremichigan.
The new Sally Smoly Nature Playscape at Holland’s Window on the Waterfront is the downtown's first play space, and the Outdoor Discovery Center has more planned.
Outdoor preschools

At the same time, the nonprofit is continuing work on its new Dragonflies Discovery Preschool on 152nd Street in Park Township. The preschool is now open at a temporary location at Beechwood Church and accepting applicants (children must be 4 by Dec. 1; state and private financial aid available).

Foundations have been poured at the permanent site and framing is expected to be complete soon, so crews can work on the interior spaces during the winter, Nyitray says.

The new preschool should be finished in summer 2022 and ready to open in the fall, doubling the ODC’s preschool capacity.

The ODC will open fall 2022 registration for the new school and its existing schools: Little Hawks Discovery Preschool and Seedlings Discovery Preschool in January.

“Helping parents get back to work is a really big equity issue,” Nyitray says.

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.