Updated: July 8, 2013 10:12AM
ST. CHARLES — Kane County nature buffs will find some old favorites shining in a natural setting when they visit the Forest Preserve District’s Creek Bend Nature Center.
The stuffed bison, the mock prairie and the underwater Fox River exhibits all hold pride of place in the facility, which replaced the Tekakwitha Woods Nature Center in February.
“We have some new hands-on activities, different puppets and puzzles,” said naturalist Jaclyn Olson, “but everyone’s favorite exhibits are all here. We’re getting a lot of comments about them from people who never came to the nature center at Tekakwitha Woods.”
Visitors also are appreciating how accessible the new center is compared to the Tekakwitha Woods facility, which was located at the end of a trail about 10 minutes’ walk from the forest preserve’s parking lot.
“That trail is a pleasant walk in good weather, but in winter it can be too much for families with young children,” Olson noted. “Having the parking lot right next to the center is a big improvement.”
While attendance has soared since the center unofficially opened a few months ago, officials believe that summer shows off the outdoor setting in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve to its full advantage. The center itself occupies a new building where the Mills family garages stood when the influential St. Charles family lived there in the early 20th century. It’s attached to the original Mills mansion, which was built during the 1930s, said program director Valerie Blaine.
“The new building is bright and spacious, and we maintained some of the grandeur of the home by keeping a lot of the original woodwork and fixtures,” Blaine said.
People can rent both facilities for parties, conferences and weddings, she added.
Armed with a $150,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the forest preserve district plans to build an interactive woodlands area at the site that will let visitors explore how a typical northern Illinois hickory grove thrives. While the project is still in the design phase, Olson said, preliminary plans tentatively include a giant tree that children can crawl into to see its interior anatomy.
“We already have the river exhibit and the prairie exhibit, so the woodland exhibit will complete our coverage of the common habitats in our area,” Blaine commented.
For more information, visit the center’s website at http://www.kaneforest.com/natureCenter.aspx.