At first, it almost appears as if the river has sprouted a new tributary, detouring it indoors.
The 750-gallon tank, populated with plants and fish sourced from nearby waterways, displays a cross-section replica of the rivers that converge beyond the windows of the nearly completed Knoch Knolls Nature Center on Naperville’s south side. As a visitor’s first impression, the water feature hints at the idea that this is not your parents’ nature center.
The new focal point of the $6 million upgrade to the 224-acre Naperville Park District site, the facility aims to bring visitors closer to the natural wonders and local lore that distinguish the site, which overlooks the spot where the east and west branches of the DuPage River come together.
That flow made it an attractive spot centuries ago to the Native Americans and European settlers who were drawn to the fertile confluence, where unique plant systems have taken root at the point where the two streams meet. The site also inspired the 1836 construction of a hydro-powered sawmill where trees were turned into the boards used for some of the earliest homes built in the area.
“So there’s a lot of history here,” said Angelique Harshman, the center’s manager.
Despite construction delays imposed by the cold, wet weather that prevailed over the spring, plans are on track for the cutting-edge facility to be finished in time for its soft opening on Sept. 8 — right on schedule.
Filled with earth-friendly virtues, the nearly 5,000-square-foot nature center will be nominated for the prestigious platinum designation bestowed by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, once it is completed.
The building is well on its way to being finished. A large outdoor deck that will be lined with an array of interpretive signs stretches across a portion of the structure’s south face, and permeable pavers will be used to finish the parking lot on the opposite side.
Indoors, much of the light is derived from expansive banks of windows and the daylight drawn via rooftop domes through solar tubes that refract and intensify the sun’s rays. Photovoltaic cells further supplement the solar power. Desks, cabinetry and trim are made from sorghum, a renewable grass. A “living wall” covered with rubber plants, schefflera and other house plants collects air previously processed by the building’s ventilation system and filters it before recirculating it through the interior. River and rain water fills the cistern that sits at the back of the fish tank and flows through the sanitary system.
Water is a recurring theme through the center. Project manager Peggy Pelkonen said the design was intended to be mindful of the surrounding watershed and how the rivers flow.
It all makes for many teachable moments, and that is what will take place much of the time at the center. Classes will target specific age groups and their interests, from bugs to geocaching to gardening. Scout groups will do nature-based badge work at the center, and adults will be able to book spaces for private gatherings.
Young nature lovers will be the first to utilize the building officially, when the popular Toadstools & Pollywogs classes for preschoolers resume on Sept. 8.
“We can’t wait to have our students back,” said Sara Cass, program manager for the early childhood program.
It was much older friends of the outdoors who inspired the center. District staff members said a string of community surveys dating back a dozen years showed consistent support for a staffed nature center, and the site near the rivers made good sense for its location.
“That’s how we got to this point, feedback from the community,” said Brad Wilson, the Park District’s recreation director.
Funding for the center, surrounding trail system, signs, adjacent disc golf course and other Knoch Knolls Park amenities came from capital funds earmarked by the district, along with an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant awarded through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; grant funds provided by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation; and a contribution from the Naperville Noon Lions Club and Foundation.
A community open house spotlighting the nature center has been scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the park, 320 Knoch Knolls Road, Naperville. To assist with planning for refreshments, those planning to attend are asked to notify the Park District via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: construction, Knoch Knolls, Naperville Park District