People like to say that the only constant in life is change, and I guess that’s true. Change seems to happen more slowly in nature, and more rapidly where people are involved. We are a dynamic species intent on improving things. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries, but hopefully enough planning is included in the process.
Woodland Dunes started in the early 1970’s by people who cared about birds and other wildlife. They decided to buy 40 acres of swamp forest near the Lake as a sanctuary for birds and wildflowers. School children saved aluminum to help make a down payment. After we bought the land we started offering field trips for them.
In the late 1970’s we bought the Rahmlow Farm on Hwy DD (now Hwy 310). The brick house was very old, some of the buildings were falling down, and the yard was full of old farm machinery. I can imagine the optimism of the volunteers as they cleaned the yard and made a huge labyrinthine herb garden, put down new wood floors, and stripped paint from the woodwork in the farmhouse. When they were done, they had a headquarters with lots of small rooms, zero indoor plumbing, and lots of character. They made classrooms in the barn and happily continued teaching about nature for the next 15 years. Then a bequest from Edna Smith made an addition possible – complete with a small kitchen, a modest gathering area, and bathrooms. More and more, we have conflicts between scheduling school groups and other visitors in a limited amount of space. Our driveay is also a cause for concern with school buses and land management equipment sharing it at the same time.
Fortunately, there are generous people in this world. With the offer of some matching grants, our Board decided to look at our options for expansion. After more than a year of discussion involving our Board and our staff – the Board elected to proceed with our first major building project and the fundraising that goes with it. A local firm, SMI, helped with engineering and architectural work, and a local general contractor, Hamann Construction, was chosen to build the addition.
We are adding new public space so that we can host more than one group here at a time if needed, exhibit space, a new kitchen, new driveway and parking, and a new entrance and reception area. The existing room Edna Smith helped build will become dedicated education and family space, and all new areas – including restrooms will be easily accessible to everyone. We’ll also make improvements to our existing Dorothy Star Bee and Butterfly Garden and develop new exhibits and displays.
Our addition will be “greener” than our existing building: heated and cooled by a geothermal system, have extra insulation, an electric vehicle charging station, window treatments or special glass to prevent birds from striking them, and more. The drive and parking area will be permeable, paved with a system that allows water to seep down rather than run off. Our existing solar panels will be taken off and then reinstalled after the roof is replaced with steel roofing, which will last many years.
A number of people have donated generously to help us make this happen. Because our spring through fall seasons are so busy, we elected to begin construction last fall, and hope to have much of the work completed by late spring- in fact we hope our grand opening will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in late April. We have a long way to go to finish, and we still need to ask the public for support in funding the remainder of the project. Won’t you please help?
To be sure, this is a life-changing chapter in the history of Woodland Dunes and a project that will make it possible for us to welcome visitors for our programs in a much better way. We still have a nature focus, remembering the original preserve we worked so hard to piece together. Now it’s time to be more welcoming to the people who wish to learn about and share the beauty of our Lakeshore.