1960s Building from Beech Maple

The Kalamazoo Nature Center is a nonprofit organization located in Kalamazoo, Michigan whose mission is to create relationships & experiences that welcome and inspire people to discover, enjoy, value, and care for nature. KNC envisions a resilient community where all people have strong interconnections with the natural world.

KNC was founded October 31, 1960 when a group of community leaders came together to purchase the land to establish an outdoor environmental education center. Today, KNC is recognized by its peers as one of the top nature centers in the country and has expanded to include 1,100 acres of wooded, rolling countryside five miles north of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

KNC Prepares for New Leadership

Nathan Smallwood, who has led KNC since 2018 as its President and CEO, has announced plans to step down from those roles, with a retirement date of September 1, 2023.   

Nathan joined KNC as only the third leader in the organization’s history. His two predecessors had more than 50 years of service between them (H. Lewis Batts, 1960-1989 and Willard “Bill” Rose 1989-2018). While the expectations were high and the unforeseen challenges considerable, Nathan left his own legacy of responsive and innovative leadership. During his tenure KNC formulated a new mission, vision, and strategic plan that will continue the Center’s reputation as a national leader. This new strategic direction led to an institutional commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion; an energy efficient renovation of the iconic Visitors Center; an ambitious climate action plan to become carbon neutral by 2035; and a change from static to dynamic, self-curated exhibits in the Visitor Center that feature more of KNC’s own work and research. Nathan also oversaw replacement of the Visitor Center’s 60-year-old dome as part of his focus on restoring key aesthetic elements of the building’s mid-century architectural legacy. 

Additionally, Nathan creatively led KNC through the Covid-19 pandemic by providing a range of new programming and services to the community under difficult circumstances. On behalf of the Board, we offer Nathan our thanks and appreciation for all his contributions to our beloved Nature Center. 

“It’s been an honor for me to lead our incredible staff and serve our committed members, donors and the public,” Nathan told the Board. “Yet as professionally rewarding as this work has been, it’s time for me to relocate and spend more time with my family. And I will leave here knowing that KNC’s future is brighter than ever. What we’ve achieved together will continue to benefit KNC and the community as we prepare for new leadership.” 

2022-23 Board of Trustees

Rob Oakleaf (Interim President & CEO)

Denise Keele, Ph.D. (Chair)

Jim Stark (Past Chair)

Phillip Heasley (Treasurer)

Wendy Schlett (Secretary)

Britni Russell-Bianchi (Member-at-Large)

  Kelly Clarke

Khalid el-Hakim, Ph.D.

Chris Fusciardi

Matthew Hollander

Jim Justice

Robert Loftus

Lucas Mansberger

Paul Manstrom

Reality Rojas

Steven Rypma

Afifa Thaj

Kalie Vogt

Annual Reports

Annual Report 2021-222021-22


Habitat Haven Fen September2021-25 Strategic Plan

KNC has identified four core areas that are foundational for all the work they will complete during the next five years. Elements of this foundation are comprehensively incorporated in the plan.

• Goal #1 High Quality Programming: KNC will continue to develop the strategy, capacity, and effective processes to deliver high quality, relevant programming for our community.

•  Goal #2 Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity: KNC will transform its leadership, programs, and policies to further a vision of equitable access, reflection, and universal engagement across our entire community.

• Goal #3 Innovative Infrastructure: KNC will become a vital place to visit and work by investing in our facilities, grounds, technology, operations, and people.

•  Goal #4 Sustainability: KNC will demonstrate and offer programs that promote meaningful action toward the greater sustainability concerns of our time, including climate change, habitat conservation, food security, and financial stewardship.

Read the entire KNC Strategic Plan and KNC’s Core Values here.

Equity, Inclusion & Diversity

The Kalamazoo Nature Center is an equal opportunity organization that will not discriminate in its programs or hiring practices on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, culture, physical or mental ability, veteran status, height, weight, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or political affiliation. In addition, we recognize that institutional bias (implicit and explicit) in our organization, in our society and throughout the nature center/outdoor industry results in inequitable access to employment, recreation, education and other activities in the pursuit of our mission.

Therefore, relying on current research and best-practices, we adopt the following goals to create an equitable an inclusive organization, and to further equity work in Kalamazoo. Read More >

KNC History Collage

KNC History

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. 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 KNC 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 KNC, 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.

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Contact Us

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Please note:  The Kalamazoo Nature Center is a private nature preserve.
Dogs, camping, drones, and firearms are not permitted. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails.

Plan your visit