"The paradise of the universe." The site of the annual Knoch/Wehrli family picnic. The confluence of the east and west branches of the DuPage River.
However it's known, Knoch Knolls park, the 224-acre natural area in south Naperville, is on track to welcome Naperville Park District's first staffed nature center by the autumn of 2014.
Park district officials, city and state leaders, and descendants of original Knoch Knolls land owners Win and Irene Knoch, gathered Wednesday for a groundbreaking at the future site of the nature center, which will focus on "Celebrating Water."
Knoch descendants such as Mary Lou Wehrli and her cousin, Alice Wood, said the facility will bring added benefit to the land their predecessors called "the paradise of the universe" and donated for public use.
"It was really cool that he envisioned this for the good of all," Wood said about her grandfather, Judge Win Knoch. "My grandparents would just love that so many people enjoy it now."
The $5.5 million nature center will educate schoolchildren and visitors about the plants and animals of the park district's most diverse ecosystem, including toads, deer, coyotes, bluegills, beavers, raccoons, bur oaks, butternut hickories and sugar maples. But anything that swims or flows truly will be highlighted with the focus on water, park board President Rich Janor said.
The space will celebrate water with a river aquarium, graphic displays featuring the types of fish found in the river and an interactive watershed map showing all the areas that drain into the DuPage.
"It's going to be really great to come in and learn about nature and the environment and how to sustain the environment moving forward," said state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican.
Sustainability also will be a strength of the nature center, as Janor said the building will achieve the highest status for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, for its partial green roof, solar panels and highly efficient heating and cooling system. An increasing partnership with the Conservation Foundation -- based at McDonald Farm across Knoch Knolls Road from the park -- also will boost the nature center's sustainable potential.
"I think the LEED certification is going to teach a lot of people about sustainable development," said Brook McDonald, CEO of the Conservation Foundation.
A $255,693 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation is assisting with green building costs, while a $400,000 Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is helping fund other park improvements.
As the nature center is constructed, the park district will expand the disc golf course to 18 holes from nine, improve a canoe launch, build trail connections and replace the gravel parking lot with one built of permeable pavers.