When a nature center opens this fall in Naperville's largest park, don't expect visitors to be wandering aimlessly around prairies, river banks and forested areas.
Visitors to the Knoch Knolls Nature Center -- including those with vision or hearing difficulties -- should be able to find their way around using seven signs being installed with a donation from the Naperville Noon Lions Club.
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"These signs are to assist visually impaired and hearing-impaired individuals who will be visiting Knoch Knolls park," said Bob Hull, the club's publicity chairman. "These are interactive signs that will help these individuals guide their way through the new nature center."
The club is donating $35,000 to pay for the signs, which will be installed by the time a $5.5 million project to build a nature center and improve the Knoch Knolls site is complete, said Eric Shutes, director of planning.
Four of the signs will help people find their way to the new nature center, nature-themed playground, expanded disc golf course, canoe launch, walking/jogging paths and permeable paver parking lot to be built as part of the project.
The other three will be more educational, interpreting features of the 224-acre natural area including McDonald Creek, the prairie and the DuPage River, which merges into one waterway in Knoch Knolls where the east and west branches combine.
"We're going to have a lot of stories and education about keeping the environment clean," Shutes said.
The signs will explore how wetlands and shoreline plants help keep streams healthy, how prairie plants with deep roots can withstand drought and how the DuPage River flows into the Des Plaines, which combines with the Kankakee, then the Illinois and finally the Mississippi River, which flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
A web-based audio tour system similar to the one used at Naper Settlement will allow on-site visitors to log in with their smartphones and pull up an audible version of the information on each sign. Lions club President Jim Ebers said this system will benefit people who have trouble hearing or seeing, and helping those populations is one of the club's main missions.
"If you have a hearing disability, you can pick up audio through your cellphone, and a lot of the hearing aids now are cellphone compatible. If you're vision impaired, you can get much of the information you need by the audio tour," Ebers said. "I think it'll be a great enhancement."
Fliers near each sign will direct people to the park district's website to access the audio. Shutes said the online component also allows access to the ecosystem of Knoch Knolls for people who can't physically stop by the park.
"They can access that system even on their home computers if they're unable to make it to the site," Shutes said. "If it's 20 below and the middle of winter, anyone can access it."
Construction of the new nature center has been slightly delayed because of frequent rains this spring and summer, Shutes said, and crews still are working on building the new parking lot, installing playground equipment and putting the finishing touches on the nature center. The building will have two classrooms and a river aquarium stocked with fish native to the DuPage River when it opens this fall.