In early November, the city of Edwardsville and the Nature Preserve Foundation, the organization that manages the Watershed Nature Center, will begin construction on the biggest park improvement project in the center’s history.
Designed to enable more hands-on, experiential learning and discovery at the Watershed Nature Center, the Access Nature project concept took root in 2016 as a way to ensure the center continued to grow as a popular nature destination in the Metro East.
The Access Nature project comprises a new shoreline classroom, educational meadow, demonstration gardens, a nature play area, and new wayfinding and interpretive signage, among other amenities.
Generous contributions and grants have made the improvements possible, with an anticipated project cost totaling more than $450,000. Current donors include Phillips 66, Edwardsville Community Foundation, Edwardsville Rotary Club, Junior Service Club of Edwardsville/Glen Carbon, and various individuals. The project is also a recipient of a Park and Trail Matching Grant from the Metro East Park and Recreation District.
“For the past three decades, the Watershed Nature Center has grown in lots of ways,” said Sheila Voss, president of the Board of Directors for the Nature Preserve Foundation. “Its wetland, woodland, and grassland habitats have been managed in ways that enable wildlife to survive and thrive here. And its trail system enables visitors easy and safe access to nature in an urban setting. But we saw a need to increase that access even more, inviting more people to benefit from the center’s nature-rich environment.”
Some elements of Access Nature, such as a modified entrance for greater access to the Madison County Transit Watershed Trail were completed in 2018 by the City of Edwardsville.
Construction will begin in early November and will be completed by Mayer Landscaping Inc. of Belleville. Mayer Landscaping is a family owned and operated firm, as well as a certified DBE. Construction is estimated to last four to six months, depending on winter weather. A celebratory ribbon-cutting event is tentatively scheduled for spring 2021.
Nate Tingley, director of parks and recreation, is enthusiastic about the project. “It’s been very rewarding to work with the Watershed team this past year to get the Access Nature project to the final construction phase,” said Tingley. “There have been some obstacles, but when all involved believe in the project and the impact it will have, it makes it worth it. We all believe in the restorative impacts the Watershed has on visitors. It’s an incredible property that is a testament to the restoration efforts of the city, the parks department, and the Nature Preserve Foundation.”
Between now and year’s end, interested donors can purchase recognition pavers that will become part of a welcome pavilion in front of the Visitor Center building. More information about the pavers as well as other opportunities to support the Watershed Nature Center can be found at http://www.watershednaturecenter.org/ or by calling (618) 692-7578. Sponsorship opportunities are still available at varying levels.
The mission of the Watershed Nature Center is to promote stewardship and sustainability via equitable access to nature, environmental education, and ecological restoration. The center is a unique partnership between the city and the Nature Preserve Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1991 by local community members who worked to transform an abandoned sewage lagoon into an open-to-the-public nature reserve. Regarded today as the “outdoor gem” of the City of Edwardsville’s park system, the 45+ acre site and its programming are managed by the foundation and its team of staff, interns, and volunteers, with the generous support of community partners.