Blandford Nature Center expansion honors founding director

Mary Jane Dockeray, founding director of the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids. (April 21, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Blandford Nature Center is honoring its founding director as it expands.

After nearly 13 months of construction, the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center will be unveiled to the public during a grand opening ceremony on Saturday.

“We’ve tripled our capacity for students at this point,” said Jason Meyer, president and CEO of the nature center.

Meyer said the addition of this new building is very timely as attendance numbers continue to rapidly rise.

blandford nature center
Bart the owl is just one of the animals visitors can check out at the new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center at Blandford Nature Center. (April 21, 2017)

24 Hour New 8 talked one-on-one with Mary Jane Dockeray about the new, 11,000 square foot LEED-certified building that will now share her namesake.

“It’s overwhelming,” she giggled. “I just can’t really put my mind around all of the things that have happened here.”

When visitors stop by the new building they may find Mary Jane there chatting it up with the wildlife ambassadors, such as owls or other animals.

The upgraded Wildlife Education Center is just one part of the addition. There’s also a new auditorium that seats 130 people and a new amphitheater.

“I stand here in wonder, absolute wonder, because this could never have happened to my ‘little woods,'” Dockeray said.

Dockeray recalled childhood memories of riding her bike to the nature center from her family’s nearby poultry farm.

Back then, it was only 10 acres of open land. Since then it’s definitely grown, and Dockeray loves it all.

“I couldn’t name a favorite. I absolutely couldn’t,” she told 24 Hour News 8. “Every day that I’m out here I think ‘ooh that is so neat’ and maybe the next time ‘ooh that one’s so neat,’ so it’s just it’s a bundle of adventure.”

Dockeray, who recently celebrated her 90 birthday, will always be remembered for her love of nature and dedication to Blandford thanks to the new visitor center.

“This is a local icon in our community,” said Meyer. “Everywhere that Mary Jane goes people remember her coming to their classroom when they were children. She’s made a deep and lasting impact on our community and we’re proud to put her name on this building as a way to recognize the fact Blandford would literally not exist without her.”

The grand opening for the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center is Saturday from 1-3 p.m.

There will be guided tours available and visitors can explore the entire new building. Mayor Bliss and Dockeray will offer remarks at 1:30 p.m.

Dockeray said that even if people have visited the nature center before, they should come back and explore again.

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Blandford Nature Center