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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Nature center plan to re-emerge

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dormant time used to lay groundwork for project

Like your lawn in the midst of a blazing summer, "it looks dead, but it's not."

That's how local conservationist Jeff Kestel describes the plan to build an elaborate nature Interpretive Center on Little Storm Lake.

"It will come to life, in its own time."

The committee that originally planned the construction as part of Project AWAYSIS is now continuing to quietly meet on its own, laying the conceptual groundwork for the center - but Kestel, a member of that committee from its beginning, stresses that the plan remains very preliminary.

"Basically, we plan to plan more," Kestel said of the dozen-member group.

The interpretive center is now considered a related project to AWAYSIS - as is a skate park also proposed earlier. Neither is funded at this point in the main project to build the central part of the AWAYSIS development on the lakefront.

"One of the reasons this project has been on hold has been AWAYSIS. We wanted to give them an opportunity to complete their fundraising before we talked a lot about the interpretive center. The AWAYSIS campaign is wrapping up now, and it is a matter of getting our focus back for the interpretive center project," Kestel said.

The basic concept has not changed much since it was unveiled in the early stages of AWAYSIS.

"We have been making sure the things we talked about initially are correct," Kestel said.

"We have tried to identify enough people from enough different backgrounds to get involved, and we are realizing that we need a conceptual design and ways to get more input from the public, too," Kestel said.

"We have been using this dormant time to try to lay the foundation."

The local committee remains in touch with Split Rock Studios, the creative St. Paul company that is interested in helping to build many artistic and innovative interactive nature exhibits for the interpretive center. No contract has been made with the company, however.

The center is to have many purposes - educational, historical, environmental. Visitors will experience native species of the Iowa wetland and find the tools to observe local wildlife. They will learn about the native prairie ecology and cutting-edge renewable energy efforts.

"It is important to get back to some basics," Kestel said of the interpretive center idea. "People need to know what Iowa was like, and what they can do to preserve nature now. We see this as being part of the journey to understanding our own environment."

Plans are to include trails, a boardwalk on the wetland preserve and wildlife viewing areas. Kestel notes that such projects could be done, fairly affordably, as a prelude to the building itself, if necessary.

"We have talked about working our way into the project like that - starting with some things for people to see and do in the Little Storm Lake area. We have to work within the realities of funding availability."

Currently, the project has enough earmarked legislative appropriation money to "jump start" the work, but no serious fundraising has been done.

The group is concerned about asking local people and businesses for funds on the heels of the aggressive AWAYSIS campaign, and would look at possible requests to corporate sources, foundations, environmental groups and nature-related grant programs.

"We do feel like the timing is good for some favorable politics that might help us in some way," Kestel said. "We know we need local support, but in terms of money, the people here have done a lot already."

A huge $150 million Earthpark development proposed in Iowa could further help to focus public interest on a development like Storm Lake's which would promote environmental stewardship at a fraction of the cost.

So, like your yellowed lawn, the Interpretive Center is dormant for the summer, but is still very much alive.

"It is a conceptual thing and it is possible it could never be realized - or it could all of a sudden take off and become a reality fairly quickly," Kestel said. "We have the basis ready to start from, if we can get people involved."

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