State ready to proceed on Cape nature center project

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

The Missouri Conservation Department plans to begin construction of a nature center next spring as part of a $7.3 million project that state and local officials say will transform Cape Girardeau County Park North from a simple county park to a tourist attraction with everything from hiking trails to specialty gardens.

"I think everybody is going to see it as a great addition to the county," said Gerald Jones, Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner. "It is a great tourist attraction," said Jones, who estimates the center could attract more than 200,000 people a year to the park.

Financing for Missouri's fifth nature center should be in place later this month and the Missouri Conservation Commission could award construction contracts at its Jan. 30 meeting, said the Conservation Department's A.J. Hendershott.

Groundbreaking could happen in March, said Hendershott who works in the Conservation Department's regional office located in the county park within sight of where the nature center will be built.

Construction could take 18 months, with completion by fall 2004.

The project's design was announced in August 2001, but working out the financing has taken longer than expected, county and Conservation Department officials said.

Hendershott said this likely will be the Conservation Department's last nature center. Hendershott said the agency can't afford to build and operate any more.

Jones said the county lobbied hard for the project. "We begged," he said. "If we were to go after that today, it probably wouldn't happen."

The 20,000 square-foot, single-story building will be constructed in an area along the current park road between the Conservation Department's regional office and the American-flag-centered war memorial.

Bonds to be issued

The Cape Girardeau County Commission will issue bonds to cover $4.75 million of the project cost. The Conservation Department will pay off the bonds over 10 years.

Private donations and grants are expected to pay the other $2.5 million needed to cover the project.

The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation has raised money for the project. The Conservation Department is still looking for private money or grants to pay for two mobile nature centers -- one involving a semi-trailer and the other a modified conversion van -- that will cost an estimated $1.5 million and allow the agency to take exhibits to schools and regional fairs.

Hendershott said such mobile units could serve as models for future mobile displays around the state.

The Conservation Department estimates the nature center building in the park, including exhibits, could cost $4.75 million to construct.

Using recyclable materials

Designed by the Columbia, Mo., architectural firm of Peckham and Wright, the nature center is expected to be built with recycled materials including a steel roof made partly with recycled car bodies and trusses made from recycled scrap wood.

The building will have a masonry block exterior. A window-filled area will run along the spine of the building to provide natural light.

Plans include a large lobby, two classrooms and a 150-seat auditorium.

The center's exhibits will focus on hunting, fishing and forest. It will include a 2,800-gallon aquarium featuring Mississippi River fish and a shake table where visitors will control the vibration demonstrating the power of an earthquake.

A collection of stone knives, grinding stones and other American Indian artifacts will be displayed at the center.

The park itself will be transformed with hiking trails, specialty gardens such as one featuring wild edibles and another that would attract hummingbirds, a 75-seat outdoor amphitheater and a fishing pier for the large lake. The small, muddy lake in the park will be turned into a marsh.

A new entrance road to the park will be built across from the Memorial Park Cemetery entrance road.

Jones said the existing entrance will be closed off with an electronic gate, providing access to park superintendent Bruce Watkins home and the war memorial. The revised plan eliminates the need to build a new access road to those two areas of the park, he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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