GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The coronavirus pandemic has left Blandford Nature Center in financial hardship, even as more people are visiting the popular Grand Rapids attraction to walk trails and get in touch with nature.
“We’re seeing more trail use than ever as people seek the outdoors as their place of solace,’’ said Jason Meyer, Blandford president and CEO.
The nature center, located on the city’s Northwest Side, had to lay off about half its staff due to a reduction in school groups and other losses, Meyer said.
“Most of those are educators and camp staff,’’ he said. “We just don’t have the work for them.’’
And while Meyer said he likes to see people walking the trails and visiting The Highlands nature area, that type of patronage does not add to the revenue stream.
“That’s what most people are using us for right now,’’ he said. “It costs money to maintain, but it’s not a revenue generator.’’
Losses from the spring and summer and projections going into the fall indicate an earned revenue loss of about $300,000, Meyer said. “That’s about a third of our annual operating budget.’’
Blandford has made adjustments, including the recent reopening of some popular in-person community programs, which Meyer says take place with COVID-19 protections in place.
No more than 10 people are allowed inside the visitor center, for instance. All staff and visitors need to wear masks while inside the visitor center and wildlife center. Masks are optional outdoors.
In anticipation of ongoing restrictions, Blandford staff turned to technology to help foster an appreciation of nature, he said.
“They did a lot of things like recording all of our programs so as schools were moving into the digital environment, we could still offer those services,’’ Meyer said.
Officials with Grand Rapids Public Schools told Blandford not to count on school tour groups, Meyer said.
“The GRPS folks that we have talked to basically have said don’t count on any field trips this fall, potentially even into spring,’’ he said. “So what that means for us is that we just need to retool and rethink the way we approach everything that we do here at Blandford.’’
Going forward, Blandford is looking for donations, as well as volunteers.
"And, of course we also have volunteer opportunities,'' Meyer said. "We could always use some help spreading wood chips on the trails or removing invasive species. Just keeping this place special for the entire community.’’
People buying memberships is another way to help, he said.
For more information about the nature center and its programs, visit blandfordnaturecenter.org
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