Lost Valley Visitor Center: A Green Beacon
What better way to promote conservation in McHenry County than to build a visitor center in the heart of Glacial Park that epitomizes green living?
After three years of careful planning, the project got underway last fall. In the spirit of reusing and recycling, McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD) renovated the existing Glacial Park Conference Center to create the Lost Valley Visitor Center. The building — an exhibit in green building unto itself — uses the latest in green technologies including geothermal heating and cooling, permeable pavers, rain gardens and natural daylight harvesting.
MCCD has applied for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) green building gold certification, the highest level of certification available after platinum. “Part of the process is for the certifying agency to come in and inspect certain areas [and] we will not be officially sure of our status until late February 2011,” said Wendy Kummerer, MCCD communications manager. “With that said, our contractors have taken every measure to ensure our success.”
In August, the grand opening was warmly received by the community. “The grand opening was an opportunity to not only tour the new building and learn about various green technologies and how to apply them at home on a smaller scale — but also the chance to showcase the building as to how it would be utilized by the public in the future,” Kummerer said. “To that end, kids activities, nature hikes, bird watching, geology talks, exhibits and booths on other activities occurring on district sites were all part of the event.
“More than 500 people came out to the grand opening and another 500 strolled through the doors on their own over the two weeks in August that followed.
“As part of the opening ceremonies, McHenry County Conservation Foundation President Brad Semel presented the MCCD with a check for $80,000 toward future exhibits and programs at the center.”
Extremely functional, the 28,450-square-foot facility houses a visitor center, exhibit viewing area, environmental education classrooms, conference center and multipurpose rooms.
“Hikes, environmental education programs for young and old, day camps, workshops and special events will be offered at the center,” Kummerer said. “The exhibit room, Sandhill Study and informational brochures and maps will assist daily visitors, while the Research Library and Research Field Station resources will be available by appointment.
“In addition, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and the McHenry County Conservation Foundation have office space in the building.”
A Hub for Adventure
The visitor center will serve as a central focal point and gateway for a day’s adventure where the natural history of the park and information about the area will be shared with guests and connect people with MCCD’s mission.
“Glacial Park — where the new center is located — has long been considered one of the jewels of the county’s open space holdings, characterized by its rolling prairie, wetlands, delta kames, oak savanna and the tranquil presence of Nippersink Creek,” Kummerer said. “Encompassing 3,298 acres, Glacial Park is the district’s most well-known conservation area, visited annually by more than 64,000 individuals.
“It supports roughly five miles of snowmobile trails, six miles of hiking trails, four miles of horse trails, contains a five-mile segment of the regional Prairie Trail and offers canoeing and fishing in Nippersink Creek,” she added. “It contains more than 400 acres of dedicated state nature preserve; harbors 18 state-listed endangered and threatened species; and is listed as one of the top five areas to view migratory wetland birds in the region.”
>> The Lost Valley Visitor Center is located within Glacial Park, Route 31 and Harts Road in Ringwood. The center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until November 1. Winter hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more, call 815-678-4532 or visit www.mccdistrict.org.