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updated: 2/3/2013 6:37 AM

Forest preserve opens new nature center in St. Charles

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  • From left, Trace Klehm, 13, of Barrington, and Thomas Grant, 13, of East Dundee play a nature version of "go-fish" with Jacob Zupan, 11, of Addison at the Forest Preserve District of Kane County's new Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. Sixth- and seventh-graders from Harvest Christian Academy spent a few hours each day of the past week learning at the center as part of a class elective.

       From left, Trace Klehm, 13, of Barrington, and Thomas Grant, 13, of East Dundee play a nature version of "go-fish" with Jacob Zupan, 11, of Addison at the Forest Preserve District of Kane County's new Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. Sixth- and seventh-graders from Harvest Christian Academy spent a few hours each day of the past week learning at the center as part of a class elective.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Sammy Gomez, 12, left, helps Dylan Lockwood, 13, both of Elgin, cut down non-native honeysuckle plants at the new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles.

       Sammy Gomez, 12, left, helps Dylan Lockwood, 13, both of Elgin, cut down non-native honeysuckle plants at the new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Michael Woods, 12, of Crystal Lake adjusts his safety goggles before trimming invasive brush at the Kane County Forest Preserve's new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles. Woods and fellow sixth- and seventh-graders from Elgin's Harvest Christian Academy spent a few hours at the center as a school elective.

       Michael Woods, 12, of Crystal Lake adjusts his safety goggles before trimming invasive brush at the Kane County Forest Preserve's new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles. Woods and fellow sixth- and seventh-graders from Elgin's Harvest Christian Academy spent a few hours at the center as a school elective.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Students from Harvest Christian Academy work on an art project at the new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles. The center officially opens to the public Monday, Feb. 4.

       Students from Harvest Christian Academy work on an art project at the new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles. The center officially opens to the public Monday, Feb. 4.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Forest Preserve District of Kane County's new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles opens on Monday, Feb. 4. The grand opening will be early this summer.

       The Forest Preserve District of Kane County's new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles opens on Monday, Feb. 4. The grand opening will be early this summer.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Forest Preserve District of Kane County's new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles. "This facility has allowed for the expansion of the nature center exhibits and educational space," said Executive Director Monica Meyers.

       The Forest Preserve District of Kane County's new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles. "This facility has allowed for the expansion of the nature center exhibits and educational space," said Executive Director Monica Meyers.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 

The new Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes opens to the public Monday, Feb. 4. The welcome sign is up, and we hope you'll stop in.

The Forest Preserve District of Kane County's first nature center opened in 1992 at Tekakwitha Woods in St. Charles. As the district's environmental education program grew, the need for a new facility became evident.

The district invested funds from the 2007 referendum in the acquisition of land owned by Felician Sisters, immediately west LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve. The property included a large, two-story house in a lovely setting near Ferson Creek. The district re-designed a portion of the house for use as the new nature center. The original part of the house was renovated for use as a rental facility.

The journey from Tekakwitha Woods Nature Center to Creek Bend at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve took place last month, and what a journey it was. The bison migrated across the river with us, along with the fish and birds and all the other taxidermy animals in our popular exhibits. The Prairie diorama and the Fox River display were re-assembled in the new, roomy space. Creek Bend has all of the "favorites" from Tekakwitha and many new attractions as well.

"The district is excited to be opening its new Creek Bend Nature Center," said Executive Director Monica Meyers. "This facility has allowed for the expansion of the nature center exhibits and educational space and thus will accommodate additional public visitations and programs. Furthermore, the recent award of the $150,000 IDNR Museum Grant to build the Living Tree Exhibit will provide for an additional professional exhibit to complement the existing Fox River Diorama."

What's at Creek Bend Nature Center for you? Lots of interactive exhibits, displays, and hands-on learning activities for all ages. A children's discovery area is chock-full of puppets, puzzles, books, and nature items. For adults, the nature center provides material and resources to learn about the natural and cultural history of Illinois. The nature center is the starting point for school field trips, scout hikes, and a host of public programs.

Outside the doors of the nature center are 439 acres of LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve. Trails from the nature center lead to the woods, rolling prairie, and wetlands of the preserve. Ferson Creek winds through the land, providing habitat for a diversity of native fish, mammals, and other wildlife. With these high quality natural areas, opportunities for environmental education abound.

The nature center and surrounding natural areas create a living laboratory of restoration ecology. Restoration education began as soon as the Creek Bend property was acquired. St. Charles North High School's Regional Environmental Science students monitored the quality of the creek for four consecutive years, beginning in 2007. By sampling the macroinvertebrates in the water and performing basic chemical tests, the students provided baseline data of stream conditions. Changes in the quality of the creek can be measured by this data.

Middle school students have also put their boundless energy and enthusiasm into restoration at Creek Bend. Last week, Harvest Christian Academy students devoted five days to removing invasive shrubs from the woodland by the creek. They learned the ecology of the natural area in the process. Instructor Krista Peterson said that the learning experience in the outdoor classroom was invaluable.

Learning to love the land by healing the land is environmental education at its best. Restoration education is not just for kids, though. Volunteer steward Tim Balassie heads up monthly restoration work days at LeRoy Oakes. People are welcome to join him in brush-cutting, seed harvest, and planting throughout the year. Contrary to what many people think, winter is a busy season for restoration.

"Recent studies show eliminating non-native species at any time of the year is beneficial," Balassie said.

Even the hardiest of volunteers will appreciate the new nature center.

"It will be a great asset on the cold days," Balassie added. "After the outdoor work, we can warm up inside the nature center. More importantly, I think the new Nature Center and its programs will spur other Kane County residents to volunteer for restoration work, not only at LeRoy Oakes, but at all our other preserves as well."

Along with expanding environmental education opportunities, the opening of Creek Bend Nature Center provides the opportunity to join natural and cultural history education. A new road in the preserve connects the nature center with two of Kane County's premier historic sites, the Durant-Peterson House and the Pioneer Sholes School, operated by Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley and the Pioneer Sholes School Society, respectively. The district has teamed up with these organizations to dovetail educational programs. Soon school groups will be able to rotate to all three sites during one field trip.

Events open to the general public, such as maple sugaring in the spring and autumn festivals, will also be co-sponsored by the District, Preservation Partners, and the Pioneer Sholes School group.

When all the commotion of moving settles down and the excitement of planning new programs subsides, I stop to reflect on the reason for it all. The nature center is more than just a building. It's a place where you can re-connect with the natural world. It's a place where you can be inspired. It's a place where you can re-charge your batteries. It's a place to recognize -- or remind yourself -- that we are part of, and not separate from, nature. It's a place to help heal the earth, and to be healed.

Valerie Blaine is the nature programs manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. You may reach her at blainevalerie@kaneforest.com.

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