It's been six years since a couple devoted to conserving open space offered their own property and house to the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.
Now forest preserve officials have signed off on a plan to transform Douglas and Fran Mains' former home into an adult cultural center.
The proposal is what the Mains envisioned in 2007 when they decided to sell their 20-acre property along Indian Knoll Road north of Geneva Road. The district took ownership of the land in 2008 and added it to the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve near West Chicago.
"The cultural center is something that's needed," forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. said. "It's going to be a focal point for people to get together and really know and appreciate what DuPage County has had in the past and what it's going to offer in the future."
The proposed center would "augment the district's efforts to draw connections between cultural and natural history," officials said.
Programming for the site primarily would be an outdoor experience for visitors, officials said.
"It's basically a very tranquil, quiet place to enjoy," said Andrea Hoyt, the district's director of planning.
The property has two large ponds surrounded by woodlands and wetlands. There's also an elaborate garden that features many unique plant species, officials said.
"It's kind of an inspiration for possible programming that might be about arts and science," Hoyt said.
The two-story house, originally built in 1938, was expanded in 1985 to its current 4,705-square-foot layout. Once converted into public buildings, the house and a nearby cabin would be available for small group programmed events, including workshops and single-day retreats.
Before the project could become a reality, the district needs to raise money to pay for it.
In addition to selling the land below market value, the Mains agreed to donate most of the purchase price back to the forest preserve.
The district has since gotten back $1.5 million of the $2 million it spent buying the land. That money has been set aside to pay for the development of the property.
About $240,000 of the donated cash has been used to install a 30-car parking lot off Prince Crossing Road, to create a loop trail west of the house and to conduct an architectural study.
Hoyt said the district needs to raise about $800,000 in additional money to have all the cash it needs to pay for the list of planned improvements, including a roughly $632,000 renovation of the house.
In addition to seeking grant money, officials will coordinate fundraising efforts with the Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County group.
Depending on how fundraising efforts go, Hoyt said it could take about five years to complete the site improvements.
"You've got to make little steps toward the goal," said Hoyt, adding that officials are "very optimistic" about the project.
"When you have such a wonderful gift that the Mains gave us, it's kind of the inspiration to continue with what their plans were for this site."