CEDAR RAPIDS — In the mid-1970s, Indian Creek Nature Center trailblazed a path in Cedar Rapids, becoming the first nature center in the state of Iowa.
More than four decades later, as Indian Creek officials prepare to open the doors to their new facility, the trailblazing ways continue as the nature center attempts to become the first in the world to attain Living Building Challenge certification.
Nature Center officials have dubbed the new facility, located at 5300 Otis Road SE, the “Amazing Space” and scheduled a grand opening celebration Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 15-18.
Lindsey Flannery, business development coordinator, said she’s excited to throw open the doors.
“It’s just a privilege and honor to be a part of this organization at the time when we’re growing so much,” she said, adding the new space allows nature center staff to expand services and re-envision how to carry out their mission.
“We’ve clarified our vision, which is to create champions of nature. Connecting people to nature as early and often as possible so they develop that passion, that makes them the next generation’s nature stewards.
“If our mission is to connect people to nature, how much better can we achieve that now? So much better. We’re right here in it.”
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Several opening weekend activities are planned at the 12,000-square-foot, $6.6 million facility, located just down the road from the renovated 1930s dairy barn where the organization has operated since opening in 1974.
All of the events — including music, food trucks, nature hikes, building tours, face-painting and other kid-friendly activities — are free.
These events are only the beginning of interactive programs to be held at the Amazing Space that teach about conservation, sustainability and how to foster a love for nature.
“We know we have to connect people to the natural world because if they’re not exposed to it, they’re not going to see it’s value and beauty and learn to love it and care about it,” Flannery said. “It’s only people who are passionate about nature who are going to work hard to protect it.”
Living Building Challenge
Nature Center officials have worked hard to practice what they preach.
When guests arrive at the new Amazing Space, they’ll find countless state-of-the-art efforts officials have made to go green: permeable patio pavers designed to capture water, locally sourced limestone and reclaimed wood from a barn in Marion, insulation made from sand and recycled glass, hundreds of solar panels and a geothermal energy system designed not only to power the facility, but add excess power to the grid.
It’s all part of an effort to create the only building in Iowa — and the only nature center in the world — certified under the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge.
The Living Building Challenge was established in 2006 by the Portland, Oregon-based Cascadia Green Building Council. In 2009, the International Living Future Institute was established to oversee the challenge. To date, 11 buildings — all in the United States — have earned Living Building certification.
John Myers, executive director at Indian Creek, has said attaining the certification would validate not only his organization, but the green building movement.
“Iowa has been progressive on a number of things,” he told The Gazette for a story last month, noting wind and solar developments in the state. “We need to continue to push not just the state but the nation toward sustainability. Us achieving this is a feather in Iowa’s cap that shows we can be leaders and the impossible is possible.”
Nature center officials plan to spend the next year documenting their building and the activities it hosts in an effort to attain Living Building certification, which is above a more well-known standard — the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — or LEED — certification.
Later this fall, the nature center is to host yoga sessions, a scary story event around a bonfire and even watercolor painting lessons.
But beyond the special offerings, the new facility itself has plenty to offer for those looking to experience nature.
Plants native to Iowa are being planted on the grounds, and the wetland on the side of the building is filled with water, frogs and turtles.
Books on birds line a shelf next to armchairs in the glass-encased bird-watching room.
A curved path in the lobby is painted blue to simulate a creek. The glass and wood doors made by local artist John Schwartzkopf sit open to the giftshop, where one might find jars filled with honey from local apiaries, leather-bound notebooks made from recycled jackets or a box of arrowheads kids can sift through.
A sandbox in the lobby projects a topographic map onto sand, demonstrating how a watershed works.
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A more than 10-foot-tall section of prairie grass encased in glass shows the history of Iowa’s prairies and how prairie grass — which has roots that reach 6 feet or more into the earth — created the rich soil Iowans use for farming.
Even the recycling and trash bins feature instructions on how to mimic recycling habits at home.
Erin Anzalone, director of education, said she created programming meant to attract all Eastern Iowans.
“I think that a lot of people think of a nature center only for kids,” Anzalone said. “We really want to get over that stereotype and be a place where everyone of all different ages, all different backgrounds, can come and enjoy themselves.”
Flannery said she has heard many Cedar Rapids residents express their excitement about the new space.
“It means we can meet the community’s desire to what they want out of their nature center,” she said. “As a small non-profit, we have the flexibility to be innovative and respond to the community’s needs. We exist for the community.
“This project wouldn’t be happening without the funding from the community that wanted it to happen.”