With a mandate of preservation, education and accessibility, Heartland Forest opened in 2004. Founder Dan Bouwman, purchased the land in 1999, rescuing it from industrial development. Over the years Dan’s dedication has led to the construction of barrier-free forest trails with outdoor learning centres, one of the largest tree houses in Canada with a 210 foot ramp, a turtle pond with ramped lookouts, a fish & frog pond with boardwalks.
In consultation with Special Olympics and the March of Dimes, the first barrier-free mini-putt in Canada was built in 2010. Mario’s Mini-Putt is named in honour of the late Mario Petraroia in recognition of the courageous battle Mario fought to overcome the injuries which left him a quadriplegic in 2005.
In 2011 Dan had fun constructing Railroad Station complete with a train and wagons built to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters.
Dan has received many awards for his efforts including the Joe Dineley “Breaking the Barrier” award from the Ontario March of Dimes and the “Award of Merrit for Barrier Free Design” from the Canadian National March of Dimes. Within Niagara Region countless awards, certificates and accolades have been directed to Dan’s achievements. Recently he was selected as the final medal bearer in Niagara Falls for the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay.
Thanks Dan, for all you have given to this community. Because of you, Heartland Forest is a natural beauty. It is people laughing, learning, growing and playing. It is unique. It is for everyone.