Just to the west of Red Oak Nature Center flows a great big river that provides a constant classroom in ecology.

Now staff at Red Oak plan to bring some of the mighty Fox’s ecosystem indoors to the nature center, itself.

Thanks to the recent Illinois Department of Natural Resources Museum grant in the amount of $85,000, Red Oak staff and Fox Valley Park District officials can upgrade the nature center’s lobby with new amenities that support the theme of “Water Connects Us All.”

“The Fox River lines our property and the way its water flows as fresh water, eventually merging with other rivers and leading into the salt water of the sea, is a living example of a local-to-global connection,” said Renee Oakley, facility manager at Red Oak. “With the grant, Red Oak can offer the community a chance to learn and feel immersed in the theme of water and its conservation.”

In May, the District’s Board of Commissioners approved a resolution that authorized District staff to submit an application for the grant. The money will be used to repurpose the lobby with objectives to improve operational efficiencies, increase the flexible programming area, event-staging area and learning space, and expand the STEM-focused school group and Red Oak educational curricula.

Components to the project include:

  • Removing the existing lobby trees, which are becoming obsolete and limits greater flex use and event gathering.
  • Removing the existing lobby fish tank in the wall between classrooms and replace it with a larger, enclosed jewel case exhibit, which is designed to maximize efficiency. The learning outcome will be centered around stream and river ecology.
  • Reconstructing the Augmented Reality sandbox as a more robust interactive exhibit that will be positioned in the lobby.
  • Adding a sound system that can assist staff with announcements and provide nature sounds, adding to the theme of nature immersion.
  • Adding a light projection-to-floor system, allowing nature images to be projected onto the floor in a variety of nature-based patterns and movements. (Both the lighting and sound systems have proven to be effective in other museum/nature center applications.)

According to Jeff Palmquist, the District’s director of planning, research and grants, this particular grant had not been open for an application cycle since 2014.

“When it did become available again, we submitted the application after evaluating how to best utilize grant funding for improvements to Red Oak,” Palmquist said.

Palmquist said the design and construction will be done through a specialized museum build company, which will be contracted after a bidding process early in 2021.

“As the popularity of environmental education offerings, nature-based events and gatherings has grown at Red Oak, an exciting vision has emerged,” Palmquist said. “And that’s for Red Oak and the adjacent Lippold Park to be the premier conservation-education facility in the Fox Valley area.”

For more information about Red Oak Nature Center, visit redoaknaturecenter.info.