ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — A new nature preserve is open in West Michigan. The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy held a grand opening over the weekend to welcome visitors to the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve.

The preserve covers 140 acres of property just south of downtown Allegan, including 80 acres of pine and oak forest, 60 acres of wetland and more than three miles of access along the Kalamazoo River. According to the SWMLC, the preserve includes more than 560 different documented plant species, making it one of the most biodiverse nature preserves in the state for its size.

The purchase of the property was completed in December 2021, but it took years of effort to help the preserve take shape.

“This is a dream that has been in the works for over 20 years, and we are so excited to finally be able to share the Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve with everyone,” SWMLC Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow said in a release. “SWMLC staff and board members first talked with Dave Armintrout in the 1990s to discuss conserving this land, and today, with the support and assistance of so many people, this nature preserve has finally become a reality.”

That effort included a $100,000 grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation, donations from several local charities, a fundraising effort that generated an additional $100,000 and the Armintrout and Milbocker families who gave the SWMLC a “generous bargain” for the price of the land.

“We’ve been working hard since December to get the preserve ready for visitors, including creating a parking area and a trail system that highlights the coolest parts of the property while protecting the most environmentally sensitive parts,” Lettow said. “With generous donations from the community, we’ve also been able to complete a preserve management plan, begin habitat restoration on the preserve and create a stewardship fund to ensure that this remarkable property will be protected and cared for in perpetuity.”

The SWMLC hopes the preserve does more than conserve a beautiful part of West Michigan. Lettow said the goal is to use the space as an outdoor classroom for local students, to help people connect and enjoy nature and to draw more tourists to the area for outdoor recreation.

Since being founded in 1991, the SWMLC has protected more than 18,000 acres of natural habitat across West Michigan between public nature preserves and private easements.