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About Us: Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

The Ecosystem Preserve was established in 1985 to restore and maintain this example of a West Michigan ecosystem. It occupies the northern half of Calvin College's east campus.

The 100+ acre preserve includes these features:

  • 44 trailed acres open to the public to explore (includes mature deciduous forest, 13 ponds and vernal pools, and a native garden),
  • Buiten Wildlife Sanctuary (60 acres of wildlife refuge with restricted access, used for scientific research),
  • Bunker Interpretive Center (used for Calvin College classes and community educational programs).

Over the past three decades, the preserve has been a valuable resource for:

  • An average of 6,000 visitors who enjoy our trails annually,
  • Nearly 20 Calvin College departments/programs which study here annually,
  • More than 500 Calvin students gaining valuable work and research experience as preserve employees,
  • Over 32,000 elementary school students learning about plants and animals during our school programs since 1995,
  • More than 700 children immersing themselves in nature at our Wetlands & Woodlands summer camps since 2000.

Despite all of this activity within its boundaries, the preserve remains a quiet, peaceful place for reflection and a habitat mostly untainted by human interaction. The Ecosystem Preserve successfully brings together developed and undeveloped land, and demonstrates Calvin’s belief that it is important to care for God’s creation.


1978 - An environmental stewardship study team from the Calvin College Center for Christian Studies proposed establishing a nature preserve on about 35 acres of undeveloped campus property east of the East Beltline. The area, once part of a local horse farm, contained a mixed hardwood forest, abandoned hay fields and wetlands (mostly vernal ponds). The preserve would provide a valuable site for conserving elements of the local landscape as they were before European settlement, and could provide an environmental study center for the college and the surrounding community.

1985- Creation of trail system and overlooks on South and North Ponds was made possible by a grant from the William Angell Foundation. This work was accomplished by 12 Calvin College students under direction of Marvin VanderWal, a member of the college Engineering Department. Total cost for the overlooks and one-half mile of edged and wood-chipped trail was approximately $125,000.

1986-87 - More land was purchased so that the watershed of Whiskey Creek and the preserve ponds were included in the property, for a total of 100 acres.

1988- Environmental explorations of the preserve began with local elementary school classes.

1991- A governing board was appointed to oversee the development and use of the preserve.

1993- The governing board created a detailed master plan.

1994-96- A kindergarten through 3rd grade curriculum was developed during these summers by John Hoebbel (local high school teacher), Greg Snyder (1995 Calvin graduate), Alina Vermeer (1997 Calvin graduate), and Randall Van Dragt of the Calvin College Biology Department.

1995- A donation by a neighbor of the Ecosystem Preserve added two three-acre lots to the preserve. One of these held a house which is now used as the preserve headquarters. The other lot was an undeveloped old field which will be allowed to reforest to establish movement corridors between the preserve and wild lands approximately one-half mile to the north.

1998 - Cheryl Hoogewind was hired as a half-time, year-round preserve manager to oversee educational activities, expand program offerings, and develop a summer camp program.

2000- Wetlands and Woodlands Camp starts at the preserve.

2001- Whiskey Pond trail and pond deck are built and trail accessibility is addressed with new railings and crushed concrete to replace woodchips on steeper slopes.

2002 - Mrs. Helen Bunker provided a sizable donation towards construction of the Bunker Interpretive Center.

2003-04 - In the spring a student team from the Engineering Department secured a state grant to underwrite a significant part of the costs of the BIC photovoltaic system. Construction began in September 2003 of the Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center with the building dedication on Sept 10, 2004.

2007- In April, a demonstration wind turbine is installed near the preserve, by Gainey Athletic Fields, to help educate the public on renewable energy. Live data can be found in the BIC.

2008 - In May, a series of quilts and painting were displayed in the hallway of the BIC. These quilts and paintings were designed by Chris Overvoorde, an emeriti professor, and quilted by local volunteer quilters. During the summer, a seasonal butterfly house was built and planted. The butterfly house will house native caterpillars and butterflies in the summer, and enable the public to learn more about these creatures and the host and nectar plants they need to survive. Both of these new exhibits were possible because of the generosity of Thelma Venema.

2009- Using trail cameras, two new species were discovered using the resources of the preserve. Both coyotes and a gray fox were seen multiple times on the cameras. The Flat Iron Lake Preserve becomes part of the Ecosystem Preserve department. Additionally, the wildlife refuge portion of the Preserve was renamed the “Paul and Carolyn Buiten Wildlife Sanctuary”, in recognition of the Buiten’s significant contribution to expanding the Preserve, and for other contributions they have made toward shaping the campus as it exists today. 

2010- In October the preserve celebrates it 25th anniversary as an outdoor classroom.

green heron

Green Heron

Did You Know?

The Ecosystem Preserve provides habitat for 174 species of native plants, giving it a floristic quality index score of 45. This means its biodiversity makes the preserve a site of state-wide significance, and irreplaceable with current restoration techniques.

The Ecosystem Preserve encompasses the watershed supplying the headwaters of a local stream, Whiskey Creek, which flows through Calvin's east campus. Whiskey Creek is the source of water for the Seminary Pond, and a tributary of Plaster Creek.

cardinal flower

Cardinal Flower

painted turtle

Painted Turtle

dogwood berries

Red Osier Dogwood Berries

maple leaves

Maple Leaves in Autumn