Donation of 22 acres of land goes to Kalamazoo Nature Center

In the city there will be a place that people can walk and bike to and be reminded of the importance of nature.
This is what coming full-circle looks like.

Once, two of the founders of the Kalamazoo Nature Center--H. Lewis Batts and his wife Jean--owned 22 acres of land that runs along the West Fork of Portage Creek.

H. Lewis Batts, Jr.'s estate sold that property to Jon Stryker.  

Now Jon Stryker is donating the property and its buildings the Kalamazoo Nature Center so that the forested property in Kalamazoo that lies on the city border with Portage and is also a natural wetland can be shared with the community.

Kalamazoo Nature Center officials are excited by the possibilities for such large, natural and preserved piece of property in an urban setting. They also a pleased that it lies next to their Nature's Way Preschool, which has operated on eight acres off Oakland Drive since 1982.

As part of the announcement of the donation, Bill Rose, Kalamazoo Nature Center president and CEO, led members of the media past the wild turkeys feasting on bird seed out front, then through the preschool and across its property, emphasizing the proximity of the newly donated property, which is visible from the preschool trails, and the connections that will someday be possible between the two.

At the preschool, there are logs and rocks for children to play and climb on, rather than metal climbing equipment typically found on playgrounds.

"Our preschool and all our educational programs are based on the evidence that shows all children need time outdoors. Children who play outdoors are happier, healthier, and smarter," Rose says. "They're happier because they enjoy themselves, they are healthier because when they are playing they are moving and it has been shown that kids who play outdoors do better on their test scores, so they are smarter."

The Kalamazoo Nature Center reaches 15,000 children each year at its main location on North Westnedge and also offers programs in the schools that reaches another 15,000. It also offers programs that have statewide outreach and conducts research and monitoring work

As ideas for the new land develop, the Nature Center will include neighbors whose properties surround the donated land in developing their thoughts on programs that could be offered there that would best serve the community, Rose says.

The first phase of making the property accessible to the public will include improvements to an existing barn on the property that would serve as a primary programming facility and the construction of a new bridge over natural wetlands on the property that would connect the barn to the Nature’s Way Preschool grounds.

To help the property make the transition from private to that which the public is invited to use, Stryker has agreed to contribute up to $700,000 as part of a 2-to1 matching grant to pay for work needed on the property and long-term maintenance costs. Those are expected to cost about $1.4 million and will be the first phase of work on the property.

The Nature Center has set aside $350,000 for the project and will be launching a campaign to raise another $350,000 in order to meet the match.

Work will be needed for such things as upgrading what is now a private drive and rebuilding a bridge over the creek that is not sized for public use. Funding also will go toward removing invasive species and restoring native species.

Reporters also got a look at the barn sitting on the property that has huge potential for future programs by the Nature Center.

John Meyer, who helped Stryker with the relocation and re-assembling of the barn notes that he was a Nature Center scholarship student when he was a youngster. He detailed the steps that went into the restoration project.

The barn, originally located near Newaygo was disassembled by an Amish crew and trucked to the property being donated to the Nature Center. Pieces of the building that were no longer safe were replaced. Ninety-five percent of the original barn, built in 1881, was retained though some parts were used in new ways. For example, the cladding for the barn siding was reused on the interior. Instead of a stone foundation, a poured walls with stones affixed to them were built.

Ropes and pulley systems used by the original farmers were also kept. New windows were installed to add light.

As possibilities for using the barn and property are explored, Sarah Reding, vice president of conservation stewardship for the Nature Center, will be part of those conversations. At the press conference, she talked about the many citizen science programs, from Monarch tagging, and annual bird counts, to river monitoring, that are part of Nature Center programming.

"We're excited that this is in an urban setting," Reding says. "When you are out here you can't tell how close the city is. It's about nature being everywhere. People can walk here, they can bike here. It really is a piece of property. There is a diversity of wildlife here that offers a great opportunity for people learn what's in their backyard." 

Rose says, "We have a seed here that will grow. We're not sure how it will grow, yet. We do know it will allow access to this beautiful wetland area and connect people to nature. Right in your backyard, there will be this amazing Nature Center property."

In a press release, Stryker says he too is looking forward to the ways visiting the land can encourage others to take care of the environment around them.  

“As a former KNC board member and proud Kalamazoo native, I am thrilled to be able to make this land donation and financial grant to the Kalamazoo Nature Center. The Center has been a thoughtful steward of our natural surroundings for more than 50 years, and I know that it will put this land to good use in furthering its vital mission,” Stryker says. “I look forwarding to seeing the Center use this land to inspire people to care for the environment by providing experiences that connect them to the natural world.”

If you would like to donate to KNC’s fundraising goal toward the 2:1 matching grant, please donate online here. Or for more information, please contact the Development Department at (269) 381-1574 ext. 35 or visit here

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Photos by Kathy Jennings

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