About Us

Ecosystem Preserve / About Us

Our mission

The Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens (CEPNG) conserves, restores and interprets native ecosystems to inspire people to value and protect the wonder of creation.

Our vision

We envision a sustainable ecosystem preserved for future generations.

Our story

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 University's east campus.

The 100+ acre preserve includes these features:

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

Annually, the preserve has been a valuable resource for:

  • An average of 6,000 visitors who enjoy our trails,
  • 700 Calvin students studying in the preserve for courses in art, biology, chemistry, economics, education, engineering, English, geology/geography, kinesiology and more,
  • About 30 Calvin students gaining valuable work and research experience as preserve employees,
  • More than 4,000 children and adults who participate in a variety of family nature programs, summer camps, and preschool and elementary school offerings,
  • About 1,000 adults who participate in a variety of programs and volunteer opportunities.

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.

Signficant dates in our history

  • 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: The Ecosystem Preserve was officially established under the direction of Dr. Randall Van Dragt, and a trail system and overlooks on South and North Ponds were created. The work was accomplished by 12 Calvin College Engineering students. Total cost for the overlooks and one-half mile of edged and wood-chipped trails was approximately $125,000.
  • 1986-87: More land was purchased, including the Whiskey Creek watershed and pond in the property, for a total of just under 100 acres.
  • 1994-96: Kindergarten through 3rd grade curricula were developed.
  • 1998: A part-time, year-round Preserve Manager, Cheryl Hoogewind, was hired to oversee educational activities, expand program offerings, and develop a summer camp program.
  • 2004: The Bunker Interpretive Center (BIC) was dedicated and is the first LEED certified building on Calvin’s campus.
  • 2007: A full-time Program Manager, Jeanette Henderson, was hired to direct all aspects of our educational and outreach programs.
  • 2008: A series of quilts and two triptych paintings were installed in the BIC hallway. They were designed by Chris Overvoorde (emeriti professor), quilted by local volunteer quilters, and painted by Overvoorde.
  • 2009: Two new species were discovered in the preserve; coyotes and a gray fox were seen multiple times on trail cameras. Flat Iron Lake Preserve in Greenville became part of our property.
  • 2012: A part-time Department Assistant, Julie Wilbourn, was hired to coordinate communication and marketing and support the work of the preserve.
  • 2015: We celebrated our 30th year of caring for this special place.
  • 2017: Additional parcel of land was acquired, and Pine Grove Trail was built on it. A full-time Land Manager, Jen Howell, was hired to steward the preserve properties.
  • 2019: Venema Plaza & Gardens was dedicated, including redesigned native gardens and a Gardeners Cottage and Glasshouse. Calvin College became Calvin University.


The latest sights & sounds | #calvinuniversity