A recently established partnership between Hope College and a Holland-based nature preserve will broaden the learning experiences and research opportunities for students and faculty.

The agreement is with the Outdoor Discovery Center (ODC), a non-profit outdoor education facility located on a 120-acre nature preserve on the south side of Holland. The site is a thriving wildlife preserve which is home to hundreds of species of animals and plants.

Since the Outdoor Discovery Center was founded in 2000, Hope and ODC have worked together on an informal basis on programs, writing grants and providing educational opportunities to Hope students. The ODC nature preserve has also served as a resource for Hope professors to conduct labs, classes and research.

Students have had a variety of experiences, including the banding of birds, tagging fish, live trapping and surveying small mammals, gathering seeds and monitoring insects and plant species throughout the preserve.

In addition to serving as a classroom, the ODC has served as a place for internships, employment and volunteerism for Hope students. Over 30 Hope students have interned or been employed at the ODC over the past decade.

Discussions in recent months led to the creation of an official partnership and the decision to develop a field station at the preserve that will serve as a classroom, lab facility and research station.

"The Outdoor Discovery Center facilities have become an extension of the Hope College campus, providing buildings and resources on the ODC Nature Preserve for Hope professors and students to utilize," said Travis Williams, ODC and Macatawa Greenway executive director. "The new relationship provides Hope access to much needed facilities on a large nature area within close proximity to the campus. For ODC this further extends the Center's connection with Hope and the post secondary education community. Through this sharing of resources Hope and ODC will now be able to not only collaborate more on classes and projects, but we will also be able to more actively pursue joint grants for funding our educational work."

The new field station at ODC is located in a large house near the center of the ODC grounds. The college has donated lab equipment that will allow students to begin using the field station when the new school year starts.

"We've had a close relationship to the ODC since it was formed, and they've been really generous in providing access and advice all along the way.  Formalizing our partnership is a fantastic way for us to collaborate even more effectively around our shared interests in scientific research, education, and conservation.  We couldn't be happier!" said Dr. K. Gregory Murray, professor of biology at Hope.

The new laboratory facility will greatly enhance Hope's ability to use the ODC in its educational and research programs. As a regenerating farmstead being managed to retain a diversity of different ecosystems, the ODC site provides a great contrast with Hope's own nature preserve near Castle Park in Allegan County.  That site is comprised of older, more pristine forest, but it currently lacks any laboratory or classroom facilities, according to Dr. Murray.