Former country club turns over a new leaf under new owner

A former country club in West Salem closed its doors in 2014 and was left vacant until a developer bought the foreclosed property. At the time, he didn’t have plans for the 170-acre land, but he does now.

The former Maple Grove Country Club was a hub for the community with a swimming pool, banquet hall and golf course. The new owner plans on keeping it that way, with Maple Grove Venues open for both profit and nonprofit use.

While others saw the property’s many problems, Steven Nicolai was looking past them.

“When I saw all the beautiful mature trees here, I thought, ‘What an ideal place to potentially have an open space,'” said Steven Nicolai, owner of Maple Grove Venues.

The avid outdoorsman says re-development is happening everywhere. Natural areas will soon be unique to communities.

“At some point, you’ve got to value the open space,” Nicolai said.

He’s made improvements to the current facilities.

“We just cleaned and cleaned and cleaned,” he said.

And others are taking notice.

“He’s done a remarkable job of cleaning and remodeling these facilities,” said Blaine Lee, chairman for the town of Hamilton.

Nicolai has made some changes, such as putting in a 5k path for runners. But the rest will stay largely the same, which is perfect for large events.

“There are tents from one end to another. All you can see is a sea of tents. On the other side here we have an archery course set up,” said Ray Howell, founder of the Kicking Bear Foundation.

Howell’s foundation provides an opportunity for kids to get off the streets and into the great outdoors.

“And then we got a great big game field where we’re doing tug of wars,” Howell said, describing an annual local gathering for the organization.

The Kicking Bear Foundation holds events all over the United States, but last year’s gathering at this venue was different.

“This facility here has enough room for that event to continue to grow and expand with the number of kids that we have coming,” Howell said.

Maple Grove Venues is already planning for other events, including a new country music festival this summer that is expected to bring in $1,000,000 to the area, according to estimates.

“It’s going to draw a lot of people here and that’s good for the county and good for the township,” Lee said.

Maple Grove Venues says there’s still more work to be done. A 50,000-square-foot building on the property will undergo renovations in the next two to three years.