Knoch Knolls Nature Center opens in Naperville, focuses on water

  • Visitors arrive early for the grand opening Thursday of the $6 million Knoch Knolls Nature Center in south Naperville.

    Visitors arrive early for the grand opening Thursday of the $6 million Knoch Knolls Nature Center in south Naperville. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Morgan Breen, 15, of Naperville watches fish in the river aquarium at the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center as the Naperville Park District welcomed the public to the facility for the first time Thursday.

    Morgan Breen, 15, of Naperville watches fish in the river aquarium at the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center as the Naperville Park District welcomed the public to the facility for the first time Thursday. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville Park District Commissioner Ron Ory, left, points out the architecture of the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center to Haus Fielder of Naperville during the facility's grand opening Thursday evening.

    Naperville Park District Commissioner Ron Ory, left, points out the architecture of the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center to Haus Fielder of Naperville during the facility's grand opening Thursday evening. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/3/2014 5:34 AM

Rain drizzled on a large tent near an eco-friendly building Thursday as Naperville Park District officials and community members began to "celebrate water" for the first time at the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center.

"Celebrate Water" happens to be the theme of the $6 million facility, located in the park where the east and west branches of the DuPage River converge.

 

"This facility right here is going to teach a lot of young people the importance of water and how to take care of it for future generations," said Brook McDonald, CEO of the Conservation Foundation, which is located across the street from the new nature center.

As the first staffed nature center for the Naperville Park District, the facility will teach preschool children, older students on field trips and adult visitors at evening and weekend events how water supports ecosystems and gives life across the globe.

"We're excited to open the first staffed nature center in our largest and most diverse natural area," park board President Mike Reilly said, referring to the 224-acre Knoch Knolls park where the center now stands at 320 Knoch Knolls Road. "We're pleased to be able to provide this long-awaited amenity to the community."

The nature center has two classrooms and an exhibit with an aquarium that's home to fish from the nearby river. It came with site improvements including a nature-themed playground, trail connections, a new canoe launch, a sculpture of a historic sawmill and an expanded disc golf course.

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"This building is going to serve to tie together a lot of the elements in this area -- the trails and ball fields -- so this will really be a catalyst for the area," Reilly said.

Dozens of kids including several members of a Girl Scout troop climbed and swung around on new playground equipment, which includes a maze that looks like a spider web, climbing structures made to look like boulders, a log to crawl through and a swing shaped like the kind of tube used for boating.

"I think it's really fun. I really like the slide and the spider web," 9-year-old Olivia Henderson of Naperville said, while her 7-year-old brother, Isaiah, said he wanted to try "everything" in the play area.

The children's mom, Julie Henderson, said the family lives near the nature center and has watched its progress since construction began in July 2013.

"We drive by all the time. We've been anxiously waiting because we've been seeing it under construction so long," Henderson said. "Even if there was nothing here, they would just love being out in nature."

The Hendersons were among a couple hundred people who came out -- drizzly rain and all -- for the grand opening of the nature center that began with a concept developed by a community team in 2012.

"Naperville has a lot of jewels," Lions Club member Paul Rewerts of Naperville said. "This is just one more. This just enriches the community."

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