Outdoor construction season is about to begin on a project that will make nature more interactive at Knoch Knolls park in Naperville and improve the area with a new canoe launch, parking lot, paths and playground.
As work begins on additional paths and a permeable paver parking lot, Naperville Park District will close the existing parking area and detour the DuPage River Trail around the construction zone, said Peggy Pelkonen, project manager.
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The parking lot at 336 Knoch Knolls Road is scheduled to close Wednesday, weather permitting, while the trail detour is expected to begin within the next few weeks.
"We will start working on removing the existing parking lot that's actually in the floodway down there and rerouting the bike path," Pelkonen said. "We're going to have continual access to the bike path throughout construction and that's our first priority."
Knoch Knolls visitors can park east of the site at DuPage River Sports Complex, 2807 S. Washington St. Trail users will be directed to cross Knoch Knolls Road further east to avoid the construction area before connecting back to the main stem of the path.
The outdoor work is all part of a roughly $5.5 million project that began last summer to bring the Naperville Park District its first staffed nature center. The center will be located at the park district's largest and most ecologically diverse location, a 224-acre property containing 120 species of plants and animals as well as the confluence of the east and west branches of the DuPage River.
A 5,000-square-foot building with two classrooms and an exhibit space focusing on the theme "Celebrating Water" has been in the works since last year, and the structure is expected to be completed by early June.
"We have the solar panels installed, which is pretty exciting," Pelkonen said. "We're really getting close to finishing up the structure of the building."
Then will come work on the inside to build the "Celebrating Water" exhibit, classrooms, offices and public bathrooms.
The exhibit space will include a river aquarium stocked with fish that actually swim in the DuPage River and decorative flooring made to look like a river bed.
"We're going to have native fish in the tank so that people get a true idea of the habitat found in the DuPage River and the fish that are swimming there," Pelkonen said. "Within the river floor will be some fossils that people can search for that are actually from this area."
The fossils actually came from Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop in Evanston, but they are fossilized remains of fish, bugs, plants and leaves found in this region. And yes, there's really a fossil shop in the suburbs.
"Who knew?" Pelkonen said.
Work on the nature center and accompanying improvements at Knoch Knolls park are scheduled to be complete by late summer so the area can reopen in the fall. A deck overlooking a pond, an Oak savanna and the river, a 12-foot tall sculpture of a historical saw mill at the site, and nine more holes of disc golf also are included in the project.