The Forest Preserve District will receive a $750,000 grant from the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program for renovations to the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon.
The grant will be used to enhance and expand indoor and outdoor nature education opportunities and programs at Four Rivers, said facility supervisor Chris Gutmann. McKinley Woods, the forest preserve that surrounds Four Rivers, also will be upgraded as part of the renovation/conversion process.
Specific improvements will include: an outdoor bird feeding exhibit, exhibit room architectural improvements, permanent indoor exhibits, physical trail improvements, trail wayfinding markers, outdoor interpretive signs, artistic sculptures and building signage, pond deck program space, prairie shelter program space, outdoor tables and seating, and viewshed clearing in restoration areas.
“Overall, these improvements are intended to transform Four Rivers into a state-of-the-art, sophisticated nature center that is substantially more user friendly for the public and provides new educational and recreational opportunities,” Gutmann said. “Improvements will also further enhance the facility’s successful rental offerings. All improvement plans are being viewed through the lens of inclusivity and multi-function to provide the maximum value to the public.”
Another $750,000 has been earmarked for Four Rivers renovation work from the Forest Preserve’s Capital Improvement Plan and $75,000 from the 2021 budget, for a total investment of more than $1.5 million.
The Four Rivers grant was one of 43 Illinois museum grants totaling $22.8 million that were announced Wednesday, November 18, by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office. The grants are being funded through the governor’s Rebuild Illinois multi-year state capital program.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “The Public Museum Capital Grants Program is designed to help public museums in Illinois expand and upgrade facilities and create new exhibits and other physical facilities to enhance public museums' abilities to meet their mission.”
When Four Rivers was constructed in 2008, it was intended to be a rental and residential environmental education facility for youth groups, said Matt Novander, the Forest Preserve’s chief landscape architect. But changes in statewide education requirements and other factors led to the site serving primarily as a rental facility for private functions, he explained.
The renovations underway now are designed to convert the site to one that hosts increased public programming and outreach efforts. As a result of the changes, the building opened for visitors in January 2020 making it the District’s fifth public visitor center.
Inside the building, offices and storage areas are being relocated to provide for larger exhibit space, Novander said. And outdoor improvements will allow for additional water access and programs and enhanced viewing areas and trail outings.
"These improvements will lead to a true expansion of the visitor experience at Four Rivers and McKinley Woods,” he said.
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