Have you ever wondered how Blandford Nature Center began? How did this nature center get started? Recently, a group of sixth graders put their weekly writing assignment to good use. They came out to Blandford Nature Center to help tell more of the story. This is the second story in a series that they helped write.
“The neighborhood children called it Collins Woods. It was a wondrous place to play any time of the year. Delicate wildflowers carpeted the ground in the spring, blooming before the forest of great hardwood trees shut out the sunshine. What a pleasant spot to visit on a hot day in summer. Brandywine Creek cooled the feet while we searched for crayfish and minnows. Fallen logs provided bridges to lead us to nearby fields of sun loving summer flowers, lazy butterflies and buzzing creatures. Fall brought blazing color to the trees and scurrying animals getting ready for winter. Steep slopes gave us sledding thrills during the winter.”
Collins Woods had an important part in Mary Jane Dockeray’s childhood. She lived right across the street from the woods. She grew to have a career in the natural sciences. After college she went to work in 1949 as the nature teacher at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Whenever teachers requested a real outdoor adventure for the children, she knew just the place to go, Collins Woods. They would get off the bus and walk through a corn field to get to the woods.
One day as she walking along she saw stakes sticking out of the ground. Mary Jane discovered that Collin Woods had been part of a farm purchased by Victor Blandford. His family and friends enjoyed area, but he had begun to sell pieces of the land to others so they could build houses. Mary Jane shared how she would take groups of students to the woods. Mr. Blandford was not mad at all and he wanted her to walk through the woods whenever she wanted.
The Museum director, Frank DuMond, and Mary Jane discussed preserving some land as a natural area for the community. Mr. and Mrs. Blandford were delighted with the idea. In June 1964 they gave the museum ten acres in one of the most beautiful parts of the woods. Mary Jane was tasked to make a nature center! Mr. DuMond told her, “Why don’t you dream a bit?” Mary Jane replied back, “That is a very dangerous thing to do.”
The money to build the center did not come fast at first. Four years had passed. It was 1968 when all the money was raised for the nature center. Mary Jane’s dream came true. The city now has a place where children could have a real outdoor adventure. Thanks to the many people that gave the needed support, others now share the dream.
Naomi shared her own thoughts as a conclusion. “I love that I can have my own experiences learning out in these woods, surveying what animals live here and finding out more about the natural world. Now that the land has been preserved, any child can come out to explore.”