‘A place to gather, learn and celebrate’

After several years of detailed planning and studies, the county conservation department has announced its proposal to build a new environmental center and headquarters at Pammel Park. 

The need for the new center has increased over the years, as the county conservation department’s educational programs have “well outgrown the old facility”, according to the conservation department officials. 

Proposed plans call for a 12,400-plus square foot facility designed to both compliment the existing tourism market in Madison County, as well as add significantly to it.

Madison County’s current nature center is located in Pammel State Park. It is a small log cabin that was originally designed as a worship area by a fundamentalist Christian group that owned the land previously. The new environmental center will also be located in Pammel Park, which is the county’s most-visited park and recreation area. The proposal calls for building the new environmental center where the rental property is currently located at Pammel Park, and converting the old nature center into a year-round rental cabin.

“The new environmental center would be a dynamic learning environment; it’s about creating a building that can be a portal to our natural resources here in Madison County,” said Naturalist Molly Hanson.

The new center will be a place for the public to get a taste of the many natural resources prevalent in the area, to learn about them and how to get outside and experience them. That’s another big push for the need of a new environmental center – to encourage kids and adults alike to get outside. 

“It will be interactive, changeable; a collaborative and dynamic learning opportunity,” Hanson said, 

explaining that the conservation department wanted to be “leaders in conservation and education.”

 What the center will house

The environmental center will house interactive exhibits, a seminar room to accommodate large school groups, professional seminars and community rental space for receptions and celebrations, which will be a draw for local, regional and national visitors, according to the conservation department. There will also be a low-maintenance modern classroom to provide a site for students involved in lab work and other indoor activities. A smaller board/community room appropriate for smaller conference meetings will be included as well as offices and storage space for the conservation department.

 The proposed plans call for a model of green construction for the building, the parking lot – everything. Water runoff will be conserved through pervious paving interceptors and the drainage will be collected in ponds. Sustainable, native and natural materials, and recycled materials will be used in construction, and the building will use high efficient utility systems such as solar panels, geothermal, in-floor heat and LED lighting. The construction also calls for reduced water consumption with grey-water being recaptured and the use of metered water fixtures.

Estimated cost

According to conservation officials, the projected cost is between $3.5 and $4.2 million, with the hope to keep it under the $4 million mark. That would cover the costs of absolutely everything, though – from re-doing the road, paving the parking lot with permeable pavement, installing landscaping that serves as an outdoor classroom, as well as the building of an outdoor amphitheater. 

The new building would also house all of the conservation offices, as well as include a new large conference room that can be rented out and will bring in revenue and create appeal and attract more outdoor conferences, and conferences in general, to the area. 

People want to be outside in nature, but that means something different to different people.

“Some people want to get out in nature and get their hands dirty, and to others, getting out in nature may mean renting a meeting or conference room with a view,” Hanson said. Plans for the new environmental center would accommodate both.

According to conservation officials, the center will be designed to take full advantage of the landscape for views, light and energy, while nestled into that landscape, as though emerging from it. 

“Using natural local materials and promoting all aspects of sustainability to reduce long-term maintenance expenses, the center will bring jobs, social connections and a new focus on Madison County’s natural heritage to the people of the region.”

Fostering conservation

According to conservation officials, an important responsibility of the conservation board is to enrich citizens’ understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to our world. 

It is the goal of the Madison County Conservation Board to be leaders in environmental stewardship and to foster this value and care for the natural world. 

Building the new center will help educate children and adults how to learn about and investigate their natural surroundings, with the intent to stimulate them to actively participate in their roles as stewards of their environment.

Madison County Conservation Department education programs generate over 10,000 contacts with students, families and adults annually, by means of a network of local schools, clubs, businesses, community groups, assisted living homes and much more. These numbers continue to expand each year, underscoring the need for a larger facility to accommodate that growth.

Pammel Park provides the perfect location for the new environmental center as it is situated at the edge of prairie, woodland and ravine. The Center’s unique location serves  as an immediate gateway to three distinct landscapes, appealing to wide-ranging audiences of various abilities. 

Exhibits at the center will provide that portal to essential Madison County but the experience inside the center (while ever-changing and worth repeating) is intended to absorb only an hour of the visitor’s time. The center then “springboards” the public into the larger “exhibit” that is Madison County.

Schedule a presentation today

Conservation department officials say they hope to start the capital fundraising campaign sometime later this year, though a time has not been nailed down just yet. Currently the department is in the process of presenting PowerPoint programs to the public regarding the proposal of the new environmental center.

Conservation Director Jim Liechty is available to schedule meetings with service groups, school groups, and others around the county for these presentations or to answer questions. 

A shortened PowerPoint presentation has been prepared as well, for groups who may be interested in hearing about the project, but have limited time for a presentation. 

Any groups interested in scheduling a presentation regarding the nature center project can contact the conservation department at 515-462-3536.