Did you know that the land where Amazing Space now sits, and the surrounding prairie, was farmland until 1996? That’s the year Indian Creek Nature Center purchased the land from the Bena family before restoring it to prairie. Soon after the purchase, an army of volunteers ripped out miles of fence line, planted over 3,000 trees, built trails and seeded 20 acres of prairie where crop fields had been. Without the vision of the Nature Center’s leadership, and the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, we would not have been able to create a place that connects thousands of people each year to the beauty of nature.
The location of Amazing Space was very thoughtfully chosen. First, our vision is to create champions of nature. We know that only people who care deeply about the natural world and feel passionate about it will work to protect it. Everything we do fits into this vision, and central to that is getting our visitors and program attendees outside into nature. Our new location, only steps away from our woodlands, prairie and wetlands, enables us to immerse people of all ages, even small children, in these fascinating habitats, because it’s literally right outside our doors.
We understand the importance of untouched wild areas, but we also recognize the immense value of making nature accessible, and that is the purpose of Amazing Space. Places where people learn about and interact with nature are a necessity in a world where a majority of us now live in urban environments. For a child living in Cedar Rapids, a field trip to the Nature Center may be his or her only opportunity to walk in the woods, learn about wetland creatures, or witness monarch butterflies. We won’t have people who care about protecting our natural resources if we don’t also have places like Indian Creek Nature Center that make it easy for children and adults to get into nature, learn about it, and become passionate about it.
The Amazing Space building itself provides an inspiring, dynamic learning environment for over 14,000 children a year that attend our field trips and programs, and many thousands more casual visitors and program attendees. It addresses many issues presented by the barn building, which served as the Nature Center’s headquarters since 1979. The barn was charming and nostalgic, but also presented challenges that limited its ability to bring ICNC into the future including inaccessibility to people with disabilities, a lack of usable space for programs and field trips, soaring temperatures in the non-air conditioned upper level office and program spaces, rodent damage, and other challenges related to living in an aging building. The organization recognized years ago that to stay relevant and achieve our mission into the future, a new headquarters would be necessary.
From the very beginning of our building project, we firmly committed to minimizing our impact on the environment and setting an example of environmental stewardship for our community and the entire country. This led us to seek to achieve the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous standard of environmental sustainability, years beyond LEED certification. The goal of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) is not just to minimize, but to eliminate the negative environmental impact of a building project. LBC includes seven petals, including Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. These petals influenced every aspect of the project, from the actual building design (it resembles a chicken coop because it’s designed to be as energy efficient as possible), to the sourcing of materials (almost all from within a 500 mile radius). The level of care that the architect, contractors, board members and staff have put into achieving these rigorous standards cannot be overstated, and we put in this effort not because it’s trendy, and definitely not because it’s easy or affordable, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Since we chose to build this project close to the prairie that our volunteers and staff worked so hard to create, we wanted to make as small of an impact possible on the land. The Living Building Challenge said the work site needs to be as tight as possible, and it was under 5 acres. The total space covered by hard surfaces on the Amazing Space campus is only 1.6 acres. On the rest of the land that was disrupted during construction, we are replanting prairie as well as native trees and shrubs. We retained the top soil during construction and returned it to the land to give the landscaping a great start.
Amazing Space is an investment in the next generation. It’s already bringing new people into nature – even people who wouldn’t consider themselves nature lovers – and it’s resonating with them. It’s getting children so excited that they want to bring their parents back – parents who maybe never placed importance on getting their kids outside. It has educated area developers and contractors on what it takes to build a truly sustainable building, and it’s inspiring others to do the same. It’s creating a sense of place through programs and events that bring the community, people of all ages and backgrounds, together. And, it’s surrounded by 15 acres of prairie, beautiful wetlands and well-managed woodlands that exist because of the vision of this organization to create a place that inspires and connects people to nature.
We hope you’ll join us out here and see for yourself.