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Ottawa County Parks & Recreation

Nature Education Center

< Description 1 Description 2 Description 3 Description 4 >

8115 West Olive Road, West Olive
616) 786-4847

Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 9am-5pm
Sunday: Noon-5pm Closed Mondays

Directions: From US 31, travel west on Croswell Street to West Olive Road. Turn south on West Olive Road and travel a 1/2 mile to the entrance on the west side.

NEW: Register for Programs, Field Trips & Camps Online!

The Nature Education Center , located within Hemlock Crossing Park, has exhibits, a wildlife den with critters and activities, a wildlife viewing area where you can watch birds and animals at the feeders, and a gift shop. The center also hosts a variety of educational programs for schools, special groups and the public.

Reserving the Nature Education Center

Please call the Nature Education Center at (616) 786-4847 schedule a visit, inquire about availability and make your reservation. This packet provides critical information you should know before you rent, plus helpful considerations while planning your event. To rent other facilities within the parks, please visit Rental Facilities.

School Programs

Looking for a memorable, educational outdoor experience for your pre-k through high-school students? Look no further than the Nature Education Center. Our school programs enhance your students’ learning with experiences which cannot be duplicated in a classroom. The educational field-trips are designed to meet your students at the appropriate cognitive level and can even be adapted to incorporate the subject matter you are currently studying. Year-round programs are available. If distance is an issue, there is bound to be a park near you where we can accommodate your class. Contact us today.

Special Group Programs

We offer memorable educational programs for daycares, scouts, churches, home schools, seniors and more! Educational and recreational programs can be adapted to meet your group’s need. Year-round programs are available. Contact us today.


Calendar of Programs

View Larger Calendar

Preregistration or fees are required for some programs. See the descriptions below for details. Call (616) 786-4847 to register or register online!

Sunday Family Programs

Various Dates, 2 - 3:30 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center

  • Pre-registered cost: $1 per child (preregister two days in advance)
  • Late registered / Walk-in: $2 per child; we can’t guarantee space for walk-in guests

Programming is designed for families with children ages five and older. For detailed descriptions, like us on Facebook, sign up for NaturE-mail or call the Nature Education Center.

  • March 1: Scat & Tracks
  • March 8: Signs of Spring
  • March 15: Nature Spies
  • March 22: Bear-Y Interesting            
  • March 29: Squirrel Superstars

Sunday Family Hikes

Various Dates, 2 - 3:30 PM, Hemlock Crossing
Free-of-charge; no preregistration needed.

These family-friendly hikes are designed to encourage exploration through trail activities that focus on seasonal happenings at Hemlock Crossing. Topical updates will be highlighted in our NaturE-mail. 

  • April 12    
  • April 19    
  • April 26    
  • May 3       
  • May 10    
  • May 17    
  • May 24    
  • May 31
  • June 7

The Art of Drawing Birds

March 21, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center

Capture a bird on paper! Learn the basics of drawing Michigan-native birds from still photographs and observation using graphite, pastel and colored pencils with art instructor, Nancy Berg. Instruction through demonstration, observation and guided practice will be provided. Art materials and an instructional packet are included.

The Art of Drawing Trees

March 28, 10 AM - 12:30 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center

The session begins with a 30 minute inspirational walk outside to look at some unique shapes and textures of trees. Afterwards, join Nancy Berg to learn basic pen, brush and ink techniques to illustrate winter trees. 

Astronomy at the Nature Center with SAAA

Various Dates, 7 - 8:30 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
Free-of-charge; no registration required.

The indoor program is followed by a two-hour outdoor viewing session (weather permitting.) For the outdoor viewing, telescopes will be provided. If you have them, bring a lawn chair and binoculars. Details about these programs will be in the weekly Natur-Email.

  • March 28: Stars with Planets                 
  • April 25: Women in Astronomy  
  • May 23: The Sky Tonight

Bird Walks

Various Dates and Locations, 8 - 10 AM
Free-of-charge; no Preregistration Required

Whether you are an avid birder or are just desiring to experience birds beyond your backyard, join us and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of spring bird migration.

Wednesday Walks                   

  • April 1: Tunnel Park                              
  • April 8: Grand River Open Space           
  • April 15: Bur Oak Landing West (off of Oriole Drive) 
  • April 22: Crockery Creek                                    
  • April 29: Upper Macatawa Natural Area (84th Street entrance)       
  • May 6: Mount Pisgah           
  • May 13: Grand River Park 
  • May 20: Location TBD
  • May 27: Riverside Park

Saturday Walks

  • April 4: Grand River Open Space                       
  • April 18: Upper Macatawa Natural Area (84th Street entrance)
  • May 2: Mount Pisgah
May 30: Grand River Park

Full Moon Friday Hike: Woodcocks & Owls

April 3, 7:30 - 9 PM, Hemlock Crossing
Adults & Children 12+; Free-of-charge; Preregistration Required

Watch the sun set to the twitter of displaying Woodcocks and call for owls by light of the full moon. Bring a small outdoor chair to carry along.

Spring Nature Hikes

Various Dates, 2 - 3 PM • Hemlock Crossing
Free-of-charge; no Preregistration Required

Enjoy a Saturday afternoon walk with a naturalist to investigate spring’s arrival.

  • April 4              
  • May 2              
  • May 9

New this Year! Spring Break Day Camp

April 7 - 10, 8 AM - 12 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center

Sign up your kids for spring break camp and give them four days of outdoor fun: games, curiosity, creativity and more. 


April 11, 10 AM - 4 PM, Hemlock Crossing

A HerpathonTM is a volunteer event to identify amphibian and reptile diversity and distribution within Michigan’s unique landscapes. Information is provided to the MI Herp Atlas and the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission.

The information will be used to assess the distribution and richness of reptiles in areas where data is lacking and aid in best management strategies. The program includes a briefing on Michigan’s amphibian and reptile species, a lesson on the Herp Atlas, and how to submit observations.

Spring Night Hike

April 11, 8 - 9:30 PM. Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
Free-of-charge; Preregistration Required

Experience the sounds of the night in spring.

Lyme Disease: What All Nature Enthusiasts Should Know

April 18, 2 - 4 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
Free-of-charge; no registration required.

Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases are an emerging concern in western Lower Michigan. This program will discuss the ecology of ticks, the current knowledge of impacts on Michigan citizens and the prevention of tick-borne diseases. This information will be valuable to anyone who works or plays in natural areas in West Michigan.

Newcomb’s Wildflower Workshop

April 25, 1 - 3 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
Free-of-charge; Preregistration Required Adults only.

There are more spring wildflowers than those found in picture guide books. The Newcomb’s Wildflower guide relies on a simple key using basic plant characteristics to identify wildflowers. This session begins indoors with instruction on how to use the plant key. Later we head outside for a practice session, keying out the early spring wildflowers found in the forest. Newcomb’s Wildflower guide is required and will be available to purchase.

Spring Wildflower Walks

Various Dates and Locations, 1 - 2 PM
Free of charge; no registration required.

For a short time each spring, the forest comes alive with a great diversity and abundance of wildflowers. Join one of these walks in our wildflower areas.

  • April 28: Tunnel Park     
  • May 5: Grose Park (Meet at forest picnic shelter)

Stewardship Workdays

Various Dates, Locations, & Times
Free-of-charge; no Preregistration Required All ages are welcome; 16 and under and adult supervisor is required. Please bring: gloves (preferably leather), insect repellent, and appropriate outdoor gear.

  • Mt. Pisgah: Thursday, April 30, 6 - 8PM. Meet in the Black Lake Boardwalk East parking lot.
  • Hemlock Crossing: Saturday, May 2, 10AM - 12PM. Meet at the Nature Education Center.
  • Hager Park: Saturday, May 9, 10AM - 12PM. Meet at the Picnic Building parking lot. Join us for an optional wildflower hike at 9AM to see what we are fighting for.

Join us as we continue to remove garlic mustard, an invasive plant threatening the health and beauty of our parks. Tools, water, and snacks are provided; workdays are cancelled for rain.

Contact Melanie Manion with questions: 616-738-4810.

Presentation: Transform Your Yard into an Ecosystem with Plants

Followed by a native plant sale
May 9, Presentation: 10 - 11 AM; Plant Sale: 10 AM - 1 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
Presentation is free-of-charge; no registration is required. Learn about plants native to the area... buy ones you love to take home!

Big Day Birding Field Trips

Various Dates and Locations
Preregistration & Fee Required

How many bird species can we find in Ottawa County in one day or one morning? Several county parks, as well as other locations, will be searched for water birds, raptors, songbirds and more! Details and meeting location will be emailed in advance to those registered.

  • Friday, May 15: Day Trip, 7 AM - 4 PM
  • Saturday, May 16: Morning Trip, 7 AM - 12 PM

Ottawa County Grand River Clean Up

May 16, 9 AM – 1 PM, Harbor Island (Grand Haven)
Preregistration Required
Each spring, volunteers convene in Grand Haven to clean up along the Grand River’s banks in Ottawa County. Join us for a fun day!

Weaver House Tours

Various Dates, 1 – 3 PM, Pine Bend
Free of charge; no registration is required.
The Weaver House will be open for tours on the third Sunday of each month during the summer.

  • May 17
  • June 21
  • July 19

Grand Lady River Boat Tour

May 20, 1:30 PM or 4 PM Departure, Grand River Park
Registration required.
Cost: $10 per person

Make plans to join the Friends of the Ottawa County Parks on an afternoon excursion aboard the Grand Lady. The guided tour will traverse the Grand River in eastern Ottawa County, with park staff highlighting natural features, properties and wildlife along the way. Cost is $10 per person, and the cruise departs from Grand River Park (9473 28th Avenue, Jenison). Reserve your place by visiting the Friends website to download and complete the registration form.

Pigeon River Kayak Trip

Various Dates, 9 AM - 12:30 PM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
Cost: $8. Preregistration Required

Kayak rentals available: $26 fee includes the kayak, paddle and life jacket.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of spring along the Pigeon River by kayak as you paddle the 3.5 mile stretch to Sheldon Landing. Return transportation is via carpool.  Each trip includes a basic kayaking lesson. No experience is needed.  A detailed letter will be sent prior to the trip.

  • Saturday, May 23                     
  • Saturday, June 6

Marsh Dawn Kayak Trip

Various Dates & Locations, 5:30 - 8:30 AM
Cost: $8. Preregistration Required

There’s no better way to experience the dawn song of the marsh than from in your kayak! Experienced participants only; no kayak rental available. Details will be emailed to participants after registration.

  • May 29: Hemlock Crossing
  • June 12: Bruce’s Bayou

Nesting Birds Field Trips

June 13, 6 AM - 12 PM, Various LocationsS
Preregistration & Fee Required

Migrant birds have passed and the resident nesters have settled in. Visit several local hot spots to identify a variety of notable breeding songbirds and waterbirds. Details will be emailed to participants after registration.

Single-Day Summer Camps

Various Dates & Locations

Day camps are designed to engage your child(ren) through age-appropriate activities including outdoor games, stories and crafts.  Themes will be listed next to the date with online registration. Based on your feedback, all of our single-day programing is held on the same date and time to better accommodate families with multiple children.

  • Wednesday, June 10
  • Wednesday, June 17
  • Wednesday, July 8
  • Wednesday, July 22
  • Wednesday, August 5
  • Wednesday, August 19

Early Sprouts

  • 10 - 11 AM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
  • Children three years old to entering pre-school, with caregiver

Nature Buds

  • 10 - 11 AM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
  • Kids entering K-1st grade

Young Discoverers

  • 10 - 11 AM, Hemlock Crossing, Nature Education Center
  • Kids entering 2nd grade to kids entering 3rd grade

Multi-Day Summer Camps

Various Dates & Locations

Birding Skills Camp

  • June 15 - 18, 8 AM - 12 PM, Various Locations
  • Students entering 4th-6th grade

Is your child interested in birds? This camp is designed to encourage kids to develop their enjoyment of birds by building their bird knowledge and increasing their birding skills.

Wetland Detective

  • June 22 - 25, 8 AM - 12 PM
  • Various Locations
  • Students entering 6th-9th grade

Guaranteed outdoor experiences include fishing the Grand River with Dr. Dan O’Keefe, bird watching, and much more as campers explore rivers, wetlands, and bayous. 

Outdoor Adventurers

  • July 13 - 16, 8 AM - 12 PM
  • Various Locations
  • Students entering 6th-9th grade
  • This camp includes a kayak rental fee

This camp is for kids who love adventuring into the outdoors. Activities will include kayaking, mountain biking and more.

Junior Naturalists

  • July 27 - 30, 8 AM - 12 PM
  • Hemlock Crossing
  • Students entering 4th-6th grade

This camp provides a creative and comfortable atmosphere for kids to experience art and the outdoors. Through different activities, kids will fine-tune their observation skills and experiment with different art mediums and techniques to create a special take home project. Art instruction is provided by Nancy Berg.

Outdoor Survival Skills

  • August 10 - 13, 8 AM - 12 PM
  • Pigeon Creek Group Camp Area
  • Students entering 5th-8th grade

Build a shelter, start a fire, navigate with map and compass. Your child will learn these skills and many more needed for a wilderness excursion.

Partner Workshops & Events

Working with Native Plants in the Home Landscape

Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 8:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve, Bunker Interpretive Center: 1750 E. Beltline Avenue, SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Cost: $20 TSN Members; $25 Non-Members
Preregistration Required

See how to begin Landscaping with native plants including how to employ basic design principles and choosing the right combination of plants. Learn about the importance of insect pollinators in the home landscape and how to attract them. Discover the importance of Rain Gardens and how to use rain water effectively in the landscape. And finally, see what it takes to care for all these different plants.

Sunday Afternoon Showcase of Parks & Preserves

Various dates & Locations, 2 - 4 PM
Event is free-of-charge; check online for parking fees
Register Onine

  • Sunday May, 10 – Loda Lakes Wildflower Sanctuary

Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary is the only wildflower sanctuary on Forest Service lands. It is managed in partnership with the Michigan Garden Clubs, the initiator of the request for sanctuary designation in 1937. Loda presents a rich cultural history and diverse ecological systems to explore and there is something to see at every season. In mid-May, depending upon the spring weather, spring ephemerals are a highlight and include spring beauty, hepaticas, trout lilies and more. It is a great time to see more of the wetlands, cultural trail artifacts, creek and lake before the trees, understory, and lush ferns unfold. Be prepared to come back later in the year so that you can enjoy the pink moccasin flowers in early June or the water lilies, pollinator and rain gardens in July through September. The site is named after Potawatomi Indian Princess Loda (Lonidaw) whose name means "Light of the Woods" and symbolizes a strong and intimate connection between the individual and nature.

  • Sunday, June 14 – Rosy Mound Natural Area

Enjoy a hike through one of West Michigan's most breath-taking natural areas. We will see a classic healthy dune ecosystem, in addition to seeing the results of years of spotted knapweed management.

Parks Administration Office

Room 267
12220 Fillmore St.
West Olive, MI 49460
Monday - Friday:
8:00am - 5:00pm
Phone: (616) 738-4810
Fax: (616) 738-4812
In Ottawa County:
(888) 731-1001 ext.4810

General Park Hours*

March 1 - October 15
7:00am - 10:00pm
October 16 - February 28
7:00am - 8:00pm
*Some parks close in winter or have hours that vary. Select each park for specific park hours.