Photo Story: Visiting The Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids

When I first heard of the Blandford Nature Center I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be acres of land and animals running wild? Would it feel like a zoo? Or would we not see any animals at all?

Would the Blandford Nature Center be one of my favorite outdoor experiences in Grand Rapids, Michigan?

Being so close to downtown, I knew if I wanted to create a unique Grand Rapids vacation itinerary beyond the beer trail, I needed to check it out for myself. After all, it was just a 15-minute’s drive away.

To my surprise, 264 acres of nature awaited me — with 6 miles of wildlife trails.

The reserve was founded by Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray and was originally wooded farmland that she used to explore as a child. Over the years, after working as a museum nature lecturer, she led the effort to create what we now know to be the Blandford Nature Center.

From donations, purchases, and later an acquisition with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, what started out as 17 acres of donated land from the Blandford family to the Grand Rapids Public Museum became 264 acres of an independent, charitable 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

But the day we visited was a hot day; unbearably hot and humid. So much so that when we entered the visitor center, the associate at check-in gave us her expert advice: “Stick to these shaded trails. It’s brutal out there.”

Considering Alex’s easily sunburnt skin and my aversion to muggy air, we took heed to her warning and decided to peruse the visitor center’s air-conditioned exhibits, followed by an easy trek along their shaded wildlife trial.

Inside the center there were a number of rescued and rehabilitated animals. From turtles, snakes, owls, and an osprey to turkey vultures, hawks, and even a bobcat — most of these animals call the Blandford Nature Center their home because they cannot survive in the wild. 

Guides near the animals told the brief story of why those animals needed help. Some were harmed by humans (whether taking them as a pet when they should’ve been in the wild, abandonment, or physical abuse) while others had physical disabilities and injuries that would make them easy prey.

There was a wall with all of their photos, listing the types of animals and their names at the nature center. As we walked through the exhibits, turtles roaming an open tank were our first welcome. Frogs, owls, and snakes, our second.


We came for the nature trails, especially, so on to the outdoors we went.

Beyond a side door a clear path emerged, luring us into the woods behind the center. Almost immediately we spotted a large cage. We knew this was where the bobcat would be, but we couldn’t find him.

It is my hope that an awareness and enthusiasm for nature will further stimulate concern for the total environment and will be an asset for the world and its future.
— Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray

After lots of searching, we finally saw the bobcat napping in a dark corner under the shade. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones suffering from the summer Michigan heat!

Large housings for other birds were nearby too. I’d never seen a bird ripping its prey apart for lunch, before. Yikes.

Blandford Nature Center Bobcat Cage - ochristine

The trails deeper in the reserve were serene. A bird-watcher’s paradise, songs tweeted above us with every turn, perfectly matching the aura of the flowers and berries in bloom.

I read in the winter people come here to cross country ski and snowshoe the trails. There are even trails for horseback riding. Despite the high temperatures, summer is still a favorite for me! Though I can only imagine how gorgeous this place must be in the spring and fall.

The trail we took was simple and straightforward, and lasted about an hour. It led to buildings and a greenhouse if you wanted explore further. I initially had worry of getting lost, but once there saw that markings and signage were sufficient.

What to know before visiting Blandford Nature Center:

  • Entry fee: $3 per adult

  • Hours: Monday thru Saturday, 9am-5pm (and summer Thursdays from 9am-7pm)

  • Dogs are allowed on trails

Share this photo snippet and spread the word about the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids. If you love nature, read more outdoor and adventure travel articles here.

Keep exploring!

xx, O.


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Blandford Nature Center and wildlife trails in Grand Rapids - ochristine