116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Amazing Space has grown even more amazing, with the unveiling of the Indian Creek Exhibit inside the Nature Center's headquarters in southeast Cedar Rapids.
The real Indian Creek runs through the property that also houses 210 acres of wetlands, maple sugarbush, tallgrass prairies, oak savannas and the forests described as 'riparian,” meaning situated along a body of water.
The idea of bringing a creek indoors began springing up during the planning phases for the 12,000-square-foot Amazing Space, which opened in September 2016 at 5300 Otis Rd. SE.
Project manager Jean Wiedenheft said she envisioned 'a flowing creek of water running through the building.”
'I thought that would be so cool,” she said. 'And my architect and my construction company - basically everybody on the design team - very wisely suggested against that, for any number of reasons, water running loose in a building was not a good idea.”
Instead, water has been channeled into an indoor fountain, home to several turtles.
'So we did manage to find a way to incorporate the ambience of water in a safe way which does not cause problems,” Wiedenheft said.
The creek idea did not dry up, however, and during the construction process, workers created a 65-foot meandering concrete trench in the floor.
About 20 years ago, Terry Brown of Loretto, Minn., had built a wetlands diorama at the Penningroth Barn, the nature center's previous headquarters. So Jan Aiels, who has since retired, called Brown and made him promise to build the creek diorama before he retired.
'I said, sure I will, not knowing it would take 10 years to get to it. But even if I hadn't promised them, I love working with people at that nature center - they're such good people - and I would have built it anyway,” he said.
When the time came to plan in earnest about five years ago, the staff turned to Brown. He was in the middle of another project, and wouldn't be available for about two more years. The Nature Center was willing to wait.
Wiedenheft knew Brown would create 'a masterpiece” for the new exhibit, designed to open a window into the world below the surface of the water.
'If you've ever been to a creek or river in Iowa, the odds of seeing anything in it aren't great. You may see fish, but you may or may not be able to identify what kind of fish they are. You might see turtles swimming away from you, or the water might be too cloudy to see anything,” she said.
'So to be able to put a museum-quality, extraordinary piece of craftsmanship in the building, that people can see what really is in the creeks and waterways of Iowa, that's a beautiful thing to be able to give to the community.”
As the community descends upon the Nature Center for Saturday's Maple Syrup Festival drive-through pancake breakfast, visitors are welcome to also park their vehicles and wander the new creek inside the Amazing Space, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Just don't bring your meal inside the building. The site also is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Brown and his wife, Paula, who joined his artistic endeavors in 2018, put the finishing touches on the creek exhibit March 5. The elements were in place last August, but it wasn't the derecho that delayed the opening. It was getting the three layers of glass fabricated and shipped from California that took so long, Terry Brown said. The bottom two layers are tempered and the top has chips melted into the surface to allow people to step on the glass without slipping. The creek can hold weight, but it's also just two feet wide, so it's also easy to step across, he added.
Brown estimated that he and Paula spent between 5,000 and 6,000 hours creating the exhibit, working in their 3,000-square-foot workshop, shipping the sections by semi, then installing it last summer. The exhibit was covered with blue plywood to protect it until the glass arrived. The couple also made many trips to the Nature Center grounds to measure the creek trough, gather materials for the creek bed and research the real Indian Creek environment in the four seasons reflected in the exhibit.
Of the 200 plant and animal pieces they created by hand - all scientifically correct - Paula Brown is especially proud of the non-venomous northern water snake she made.
'I got to work with a lot of the models, which is really, really fun,” she said. 'I feel like I got a great compliment the other day when we came in and the staff were telling me that some of the visitors are a little intimidated by the snake that is now on the fountain, because they think it's real.”
This marks the couple's final project. Terry, 67, and Paula, 65, have officially retired. Fittingly, when asked what he's most proud of with this career capstone, Terry Brown replied: 'All of it.”
' What: Indian Creek Exhibit
' Where: Inside the Amazing Space, Indian Creek Nature Center, 5300 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids
' Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
' Admission: Free
' Exhibit video: youtube.com/watch?v=EqG93G52b-M
' Upcoming event: Maple Syrup Festival, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday; drive-through pancake breakfast, $6, tickets on-site or indiancreeknaturecenter.org/gallery/maple-syrup-festival/
' Information: indiancreeknaturecenter.org/
Comments: (319) 368-8508; email@example.com