It seems that all of us are being brought down to earth by biology right now, by tiny little bits of protein that wish to replicate themselves within our cells. Despite our best-laid plans for 2020, we’ve all had to adapt to altered circumstances caused by a virus. As a result, we’re all under stress because things don’t go as we would wish right now. In such times, being able to enjoy the outdoors becomes even more important. We are soothed by the beautiful Lake and the natural areas around it. We can safely space out, and get away from the daily onslaught of news and opinions that make up our world right now. And allow the beauty of nature restore us.
Woodland Dunes had big plans for this year. A couple of years ago, as a result of difficulties caused by our limited indoor space and a generous offer of support from one of our members, we began the process of planning an addition to our building. A lot of time was spent examining our needs and wants, and determining what was feasible. Teams of volunteers formed to help with building design and fundraising. After some initial donations, we began working with SMI Inc. for building design, and Hamann Construction for the work of building the addition.
By the time these were in place, and we had done some fundraising, it was late in 2019, and we began in October. The process of seeing the project materialize bit by bit was fascinating, and during construction the project looked different every day. By December walls were up, and after that the roof was installed and the structure was weatherproof. At that point, many things happened at once- electrical work, drywall, masonry- things were really moving along. Then, in March, our friend COVID appeared on the scene, and slowed everything down. Suddenly there were delays in obtaining materials, and limitations on the number of people on site. With the economic downturn, fundraising became a more significant challenge. Like everyone else, we needed to adapt.
Gradually things came together, and now we find ourselves able to open a couple of months later than planned. The wait was worth it- we now have twice the space available for programs and displays, although to protect the safety of our visitors we are limiting people in the building to no more than 10 at a time, and we are asking all visitors to wear face coverings which we will supply at no charge for those who don’t have their own. Every two hours touchable surfaces are cleaned. It’s not quite the grand opening we planned yet, but things seem to be working well. Visitors can park in our new parking area in front of the addition, and enter through our new main entrance. A reception area with our staff or volunteers is located at the entrance to help visitors become oriented to our center and preserve. We still have some fundraising to do to completely fund the project, but with some help our goal is within reach.
We have tried to build our addition in a way which reduces it’s negative impacts on the environment. A geothermal heating and cooling system controls climate in that part of our building, exchanging heat with the soil at a depth of 20 feet. Windows are treated using three different methods to deter birds from hitting them. All lighting is by very efficient LED fixtures, and our parking and drive area has permeable paving using a grid filled with pea gravel which allows rainwater to soak into the soil rather than run off to storm sewers. Our butterfly garden, or wildlife garden as we refer to it because of the number of birds there, has also received a face lift and a new paved walkway which is accessible to all our visitors. In face our entire addition is built on one level and is much more easy to navigate, as are new restrooms.
Woodland Dunes is not only a sanctuary for wildlife but for people as well. Our lifeblood is the 1500 acres outside our doors, but improvements to our nature center building will help our visitors feel more comfortable when they come here, and as a result will more effectively teach about the nature of our preserve and the Lakeshore area for many years to come.
photos by Jim Knickelbine. Roy and Todd from Hamann Construction, who coordinated the construction and
new main entrance to nature center