Willowbrook Wildlife Center seeks public input on expansion

  • The Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn houses its visitors center, medical clinic and animal intake in a 65-year-old, 5,848-square-foot building. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County wants to replace the building with one that will be 32,000-square-feet by 2024.

    The Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn houses its visitors center, medical clinic and animal intake in a 65-year-old, 5,848-square-foot building. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County wants to replace the building with one that will be 32,000-square-feet by 2024. Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

 
 
Updated 6/4/2021 5:35 PM

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is seeking public input about plans to expand Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.

Three public open houses are planned this summer -- one virtually via Zoom with two in-person gatherings in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton. There's also an online survey for residents to complete, plus an option to be added to an online mailing list for updates.

 

Forest Preserve Executive Director Karie Friling said Willowbrook Wildlife Center is the state's largest rehabilitation center and a national research leader in returning injured animals back to nature. But she said Willowbrook's main building -- which houses its visitors center, medical clinic and animal intake -- is showing its age and is bursting at the seams.

"It's 65 years old," Friling said about the 5,848-square-foot building. "It was originally constructed to treat probably about 5,000 animals a year, and now we're already close to 10,000. You can't imagine the kind of stress that puts onto staff so they can have adequate space to do their jobs, but also just where do you put all these animals during their care?"

The forest preserve aims to build a new 32,000-square-foot clinic and visitors center on the same site by 2024. It is to have expanded naturalized outdoor and indoor rehabilitation areas, plus interactive exhibits for school groups and general visitors.

"It will also be an opportunity for visitors to go behind the scenes and really take a look at how we rehabilitate wildlife so they can be released back into nature," Friling said.

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Friling said the new facility will be designed to lessen stress factors for animals on display that can't be returned due to factors like blindness or permanent physical injuries.

Other plans include an outdoor classroom, a welcome plaza and an interpretive trail with wildlife observation areas.

Willowbrook has largely closed off its indoor areas to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet Friling said the complex has stayed open the entire time for staff to do intake and animal rehabilitation.

Friling expects the center will be reopening to the public soon, though she didn't have an exact date. But when it does, Friling said she hopes residents will be energized to get involved.

"We need the public's input," Friling said. "When you think about rehabilitation and helping wildlife, what's important to you, what do you think those primary components should be and how do you think we should prioritize those things?"

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