The Prairie Woods Nature Center held its grand opening over the weekend at Oak Grove Park near Hawarden in northwest Iowa.
The project is a dozen years in the making, according to Sunday Ford, the environmental education coordinator for the Sioux County Conservation Board. “With the number of students we get every year and the number of families and individuals that want that outdoor connection, we had outgrown our building that we were using for education,” Ford says. “We really just needed a place for the environmental education programs and also for the self tours to learn about the outdoors.”
During the summer months, the staff will be joined by two naturalist interns and many volunteers, which, according to Ford, serve a very important role. “We have a wonderful core group of volunteers that are excited about the building, excited to help with teaching, help with summer camps, greet people when they come in, and do projects that have to do with the outdoors,” Ford says. “Our volunteers are what’s going to make this building what it is.”
The goal is to provide education that enhances the outdoor experiences for all ages in Sioux County, leading to environmental appreciation, understanding, and stewardship. The facility is a two-level, 12,000 square foot building that will host school education programs, field trips, nursing home visits, preschools, library programs, public programs, partnerships with civic groups, and more. Inside the center are hands-on activities for kids and adults, reading, live animals and exhibits.
“When you get out of your car in the parking lot, you’re going to take in this majestic view, rolling hill prairies,” Ford says. “Walking the sidewalks into the building, there are animal tracks that are in the concrete from foxes to deer and we’ve got a woodpecker.”
Inside, she says, the vaulted ceilings and wood create a cabin feel. The $4.8 million project included a local fund-raising campaign to raise $2.3 million — and that mark was surpassed. The project also received an Enhance Iowa community grant of $600,000. The facility is closed Sundays and Mondays, so official business hours begin tomorrow (Tuesday).
(By Mark Buss, KSOU, Sioux Center)