Certain places have a magic that draws people to them. Cooper’s Glen, one of the best-loved spots in Kalamazoo County, has possessed this power for centuries. There is evidence that Native Americans camped near the glen prior to European settlement. Some of Cooper Township’s first European residents lived close to the glen, building their homes in the clearings made famous by James Fenimore Cooper in his book “The Oak Openings”. Later families and friends traveled out from Kalamazoo by dirt road, by boat along the Kalamazoo River or on the interurban railway to picnic. Families went for picnics, biology students for field study, amateur and professional ornithologists to observe and enjoy varied bird life, photographers to capture images, and botanists to study and enjoy the varied wildflowers and other plant life.” (from Glimpsing the Whole, the Kalamazoo Nature Center Story, 1995) In the late 1950’s gravel mining and commercialism threatened Cooper’s Glen, so a group of community leaders came together to purchase the land and establish an outdoor environmental education center that would become known as the Kalamazoo Nature Center—one of the first nature centers in the country.
Dr. H. Lewis Batts, Jr. was a nationally known environmentalist at the time and the driving force behind the purchase of Cooper’s Glen and the incorporation of the Kalamazoo Nature Center in 1960. Dr. Batts continued to serve as the center’s volunteer Executive Director until his retirement in 1989 when Dr. Willard M. Rose was hired to lead the organization into the future. President & CEO Nathan Smallwood is the third person to hold this position.
Today The Kalamazoo Nature Center, recognized by its peers as one of the top nature centers in the country, has expanded to include 1,100 acres of wooded, rolling countryside five miles north of Kalamazoo, Michigan.