Construction of the project, which will cost nearly $8 million, started last month, but the delayed groundbreaking ceremony allowed more people to attend the celebration of years of effort to advocate for and design the new center.
“The Olmsted County parks staff has put a lot of thought, effort and time into the design, and making sure we have the right stuff in this nature center to get us into the future,” Olmsted County Parks Superintendent Karlin Ziegler told the gathered crowd.
Karlin Ziegler, Olmsted County Parks Director, speaks during a groundbreaking event for the Oxbow Park Nature Center Wednesday, May 19, 2021, at Oxbow Park near Byron. (Joe Ahlquist / [email protected])
Here are a few things to know about the project:
1. The project will expand educational and exhibit space.
The new center, which is being built east of the existing facility, will nearly triple the existing space when it opens in 2022, providing a total of 13,000 square feet of classroom, exhibit and staff space.
2. Flexibility is built into the design.
The new center will be able to seat more than 150 for larger events, whereas the existing facility could only handle 75 people at a time.
The larger facility space, however, will also be able to be divided into thirds, so it can accommodate three different programs at the same time.
An artists rendering shows the exhibit hall in the new Oxbow Park Nature Center being built and slated to open next year. (submitted)
3. Exhibits will add opportunity.
In addition to the new and larger classroom space, the new center will feature an exhibit hall with a wildlife viewing area.
The hall will showcase geology, flora and fauna of Southeast Minnesota, with live animal exhibits, educational exhibits and areas for exploratory play.
4. Zollman Zoo and other activities remain open through construction.
Construction of the new nature center won’t curtail existing park activities.
Oxbow Park will remain open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., with Zollman Zoo open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The park closed the existing nature center for classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the facility will be used through construction..
Crews work at the construction site of the Oxbow Park Nature Center Wednesday, May 19, 2021, at Oxbow Park near Byron. (Joe Ahlquist / [email protected])
5. Park popularity has grown.
Discussion of a new center started in 2016, when it was determined that the existing center, built in 1981, wasn’t meeting the needs of growing crowds.
Ziegler said park activity is growing to nearly 400,000 visitors a year, with approximately 15,000 attending public programs and events in the nature center in 2019, along with 11,000 students for field trips.
“We are very much growing to what we were in the ‘80s,” Ziegler said.
A artist’s rendering shows the front of the planned new Oxbow Park Nature Center. (submitted)
6. New facility means around-the-clock restroom access.
The restroom locations in the existing center have caused traffic-flow problems with large crowds in the building, so the new restrooms will open to the exterior.
The outdoor access will also allow the restrooms to be open to park visitors when the center and zoo are closed.
7. A new zoo entry will eventually be added.
Once the new center is built, demolition of the existing building will make way for new landscaping and the creation of a new gateway to the zoo, which houses more than 30 species of animals native to the region.
The new landscaping will also include native gardens, lawn demonstration spaces, and gathering spots for visitors.
8. State funds will cover more than a quarter of the cost.
The county received $2.1 million in Minnesota Legacy funds, which are generated through sales taxes approved by Minnesota voters in 2008, when the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the state’s constitution was passed.
Another $192,000 in Legacy funds is expected for the demolition and landscaping phase of the project.
The county has already issued bonds to borrow $3.5 million for the project, and Ziegler said another $1.4 million could be borrowed with additional bonds, if needed.
9. Friends of Oxbow is seeking to raise $1 million.
“We are approaching the biggest fundraising endeavor this group has ever encountered,” Friends of Oxbow Park President Seanne Buckwalter said Wednesday.
The new campaign will seek to cover costs of classroom technology and exhibits to lessen the need for further county borrowing for the new nature center.
Friends of Oxbow, which has raised more than $750,000 for the park since the 1980s.
Donations can be made online at FriendsofOxbow.org.