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City hall OKs Heartland Forest proposal

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Dan Bouwman, founder and president of Heartland Forest, with a drawing showing what the proposed indoor nature centre will look like in the south end of the city. City council amended its zoning bylaw to allow the charitable organization to build the facility. PHOTO: MIKE DIBATTISTA /NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW

Dan Bouwman, founder and president of Heartland Forest, with a drawing showing what the proposed indoor nature centre will look like in the south end of the city. City council amended its zoning bylaw to allow the charitable organization to build the facility. PHOTO: MIKE DIBATTISTA /NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW

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NIAGARA FALLS - 

Not only did Heartland Forest's proposal to build a new 1,400-square-metre museum and interpretative centre get unanimous support from city council Tuesday night.

The charitable organization's founder and president Dan Bouwman received a loud standing ovation from city politicians, staff members and residents in the council chambers for what he has done with acres of land in the south end of the city.

"You could be living in a condo somewhere far away from here," Mayor Jim Diodati told Bouwman, who owns Dan's Produce. "But instead, you've remained here and you continue to reinvest in your community and provide a great service to families and their children."

Council amended its zoning bylaw to allow the construction of a multi-purpose nature building on land near the corner of Kalar and Brown rds.

Heartland Forest, which is run by corporate and private donations, manages 93 acres of land in the south end of the city. It has only one indoor facility on its property, a double portable classroom, where children are educated about nature and its creatures.

It wants to build a bigger, more accessible indoor building that can house its educative programs year round.

Around 75% of the new building cost — $1.6 million — will be paid through a grant Heartland Forest received from a federal program called the Enabling Accessibility Fund.

The new facility will house a discovery atrium with exhibits and seating for up to 150 people. There will be a nature store and a snack bar. There will be a forest discovery classroom with indoor learning stations. There will be an arts studio with a woodworking shop, and an area for public seminars.

"I spend a lot of time out there and it is a wonderful place," said Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni. "It just gets better all the time."

Elisabeth Graham, executive director at Heartland Forest, moved to Niagara three years ago with her husband and autistic child after a pleasant visit to Heartland Forest.

"It was actually our son ... who was on a field trip with Autism Ontario that introduced us to the forest and we felt firsthand that community spirit, the attitude that everyone was welcome," she said.

"It was really special to discover Heartland Forest. Soon after that I began volunteering with them."

During a public meeting Tuesday evening, Flory Massi, who was president of the Tender Wishes Foundation for 12 years and is presently on the board of the Boys and Girls Club, said he supports Heartland Forest's application for "many reasons.

"I know, firsthand, the importance and the benefits and the needs that Heartland Forest has provided and continues to provide the residents of this community - from the children with physical and mental challenges, to their parents, to the rest of their families, the schools that bring children to partake in the programs that are offered ... to the seniors that visit Heartland Forest, many of them with the same physical and mental challenges that some of the children have."

Massi pointed to the various barrier-free and accessible amenities at Heartland Forest.

"This property provides a place for kids and adults to come and experience nature at its best, to come and learn and appreciate nature.

"This property provides us a safe place to walk, to relax and to enjoy. It's a place that provides a sense of peace, a spiritual tranquility to all that enjoy the forest.

"This property is a treasure of Niagara."

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