Investing in swampland
Ecosystem Preserve celebrates 25 years of education and inspiration


When a piece of land adjacent to the Calvin campus became available in 1985, there was no doubt in Paul Buiten’s mind that the college should pursue it. A 1956 Calvin alumnus, Buiten attended Calvin on the old Franklin campus.

“That was a time when the campus was squeezed onto a couple of city blocks, with no room to grow in any direction,” he said. “Even though Calvin had since moved to a big piece of land—some people thought big enough for the rest of Calvin’s career—I thought it would be needed for future development.”

Unfortunately, a lot of people disagreed with Buiten. “Calvin tried to raise money for that land and some lab equipment; they had no problem getting the money for the lab equipment, but the land was a different story,” he said. “Businessmen weren’t interested in a nature preserve; to them it was a swamp.”

Honestly, the piece of land that eventually became a big portion of the Ecosystem Preserve wasn’t the part Buiten was interested in either. “The swampland wasn’t the part Calvin was going to be able to build anything on,” he said. “I was more interested in seeing that Calvin get the more valuable land included in the 134 acres” (including where the Prince Conference Center and DeVos Communication Center are now located).

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With the land still available in 1986 and not much interest in funding the acquisition, Buiten and his wife, Carolyn, decided to make the purchase themselves. “I didn’t give the money because of the nature preserve,” he said, “but I’m thrilled to see how it has developed. Calvin has improved it immensely.”

Though called a visionary by some, Buiten deflects the recognition: “All I knew is that Calvin would need it sometime in the future. When you’re able to buy something of real value for the college and you get a freebie with it—because that’s really what the nature preserve is—of course you’re going to do it. And look what a fantastic job Calvin has done with it.”             

In honor of the donors, the research and refuge portion of the Ecosystem Preserve was named the Paul and Carolyn Buiten Wildlife Sanctuary in 2009.