For decades Indian Creek Nature Center has led the area in sustainable building and operations practices. In 1993, the first net-metered solar panel system in Iowa was installed on the maple sugar house. Relocated to the barn a few years later, these panels have consistently produced 25% of our electricity.
This innovative history of sustainability will continue at the Nature Center into the future. As we embark on our future we have committed to a new certification program called the Living Building Challenge (LBC). LBC is a super charged LEED program that focuses on true sustainability.
At Indian Creek Nature Center, we create champions of nature. What does this mean? We connect children to nature as early and as frequently as possible to breed understanding and passion for the natural world. We believe that children who are passionate about nature will grow into adults who work to protect it. They will become the next generation of environmental stewards.
In a world plagued by Nature Deficit Disorder, the opportunities that we provide to children for learning, growth and unstructured play in the outdoors are absolutely essential. The future of our natural environment lies in the hands of the next generation of nature champions.
In 1849, two farms were established on land that would later become Indian Creek Nature Center. Nestled near the confluence of Indian Creek and the Cedar River, this land changed hands several times before Milo Wolfe purchased what is known today as the Bena Farm. The farm remained in the Wolfe family until 1899, when William Christle purchased it. For twenty years the Christle family owned the property, then sold it to Wencil and Carrie Bena on March 1, 1920. Carrie was William Christle’s daughter. The farm remained in the Bena family until it was sold to Indian Creek Nature Center in 1994.
In the mid-1920s, Charles Penningroth, a Cedar Rapids attorney, purchased other land bordering Indian Creek. For the next 25 years, under Penningroth ownership, the land was utilized for various forms of agriculture. Construction of the Penningroth Dairy Barn was completed in 1932 in the midst of the Depression. The remodeled barn served as the headquarters of the Nature Center from its opening in 1973 until 2016, when the new Amazing Space building and campus is slated to open. The barn will continue to be utilized for Nature Center activities.
In 1968, the City of Cedar Rapids used Federal Housing and Urban Development funds to purchase about 1000 acres of floodplain along the Cedar River. This land, known as the Greenbelt, stretches from southeast Cedar Rapids to Indian Creek, then extends north through the lower Indian Creek valley. The Penningroth farm was part of this purchase.
In 1970 B.B. Stamats visited a nature center in the Twin Cities and became an advocate for an environmental education center in the Cedar Rapids area. B.B. and Jean O’Donnell shared this vision and recruited a steering committee of about forty community members. Indian Creek Nature Center was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1973 but a physical site had yet to be found. Studies identified Penningroth farm, now owned by the City of Cedar Rapids, as the best site. A lease for the barn and 120 acres of land was arranged and the Indian Creek Nature Center became the first nature center in Iowa. The first public program was held on Groundhog Day in 1974.
In 1980, the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service declared the Nature Center’s trails the Cedar Greenbelt National Recreation Trail.
Establishing its role as a leader in outdoor education, in 1982-83, the Nature Center planned and piloted its preschool and second grade programs.
An exceptional and unexpected opportunity came to ICNC in 1994 when the Bena family offered to sell their farm to the Nature Center. The resulting transaction increased Nature Center land to 210 acres. BB Stamats’ and Jean O’Donnell’s dream of a nature center for their community materialized into green prairies, teeming wetlands, and protected woodlands that thousands of visitors enjoy each year.
The Paul & Sigrund Lynch Wetland, the site of hundreds of Nature Center programs on wetland flora and fauna, was established in 1999.
In 2004, ICNC hosted its one-millionth visitor.
In 2004, ICNC accepted the challenge to purchase the Bena Homestead as part of its “Stitching the Bena Farm Back Together” project.
In 2005, ICNC drafted and began implementing a strategic initiative to provide leadership in land protection and restoration. The initiative expands the Nature Center’s work in the community to provide long-term, healthy ecosystems that benefit wildlife, the environment, and future generations.
In 2009 ICNC, in partnership with Metro High School staff and students, constructed and dedicated its Sense of Wonder Trail/Outdoor Classroom, which was certified as a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom by the National Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.
Also in 2009, the Nature Center’s trail system expanded with the completion of Wood Duck Way and the Founders’ Trail.
In 40 years, Indian Creek Nature Center increased its annual attendance to over 40,000 individuals per year, including approximately 14,000 children attending programs and school field trips. While a cherished landmark, the Nature Center’s barn building presents many inadequacies that hinder its use as a center for learning and exploration. Lack of accessibility to persons with disabilities, no air conditioning, and no dedicated classroom space are among the primary obstacles.
To bring the Nature Center into the future, and after much input from stakeholders and the general community, the Amazing Space project was born. The 12,000 square foot building on Nature Center land, and the accompanying campus, addresses the shortcomings of the barn building, while making the Nature Center’s outdoor habitats more accessible. It also achieves the Future Living Institute’s Living Building Challenge, a true measure of environmental sustainability.
The Amazing Space fundraising campaign included $1 million in funds to build the Nature Center’s endowment, ensuring financial sustainability now and into the future. Indian Creek Nature Center is poised to bring the best of nature to the people of Iowa and beyond for many years to come.