CEDAR FALLS — The Hartman Reserve Nature Center showed off a newly rebuilt and renovated interpretive center to a crowd of donors and supporters Friday.
While the $3 million overhaul of the 77-year-old building drew rave reviews for its upgraded appearance, many said the renovation’s greatest benefit will be the improved programming for the public.
“This is a multi-generational project and it was built with years and years of use in mind,” said John Mardis, chairman of the Black Hawk County Conservation Board, which oversees the natural area where Cedar Falls and Waterloo meet along the Cedar River.
“It’s a wonderful education facility and a wonderful meeting place,” Mardis said. “It is the gateway facility to lead people into the woods.”
Sherman Lundy, a member of the Friends of Hartman Reserve board that spearheaded fundraising efforts for the project, was among donors and the general public who toured the building during the open house.
“It’s just magnificent,” Lundy said. “It is a tremendous addition that the public is going to find even more inviting.
“We also can expand the programs,” he said. “We can accommodate some more programs and add an innovation aspect we couldn’t do in the narrow confines of the previous building.”
The new building completed by Larson Construction of Independence, includes a learning lab in the basement, providing space for visiting children to learn about the environment in a hands-on way.
The original east wing of the interpretive center, built in 1941, had deteriorated badly by the time the Friends of Hartman Reserve began planning and fundraising to rebuild it in 2012.
The project received major donations from organizations like the Black Hawk County Gaming Association, Iowa Community Attractions and Tourism program, Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, R.J. McElroy Trust, city and county taxpayers and hundreds of individuals.
Paula Goetz, who chairs the Friends’ facility committee, said donors included “kids who had lemonade stands and kids who emptied their piggy banks.”
Vern Fish was among the first people through the doors Friday. He was conservation director when the project broke ground in the fall of 2016 but has since retired.
“This is what Black Hawk County deserves,” Fish said. “We’re the fourth-largest county in the state, and we now have a facility that reflects that. This is a top tier, world class facility that our citizens deserve.
“This was a community effort, from big donors to small donors,” he added. “The citizens of Black Hawk County made this happen.”
The interpretive center officially opens to the public Wednesday, giving staff who have been relocated to another building for the past 18 months a chance to settle back in.
Many residents likely will get their first look at the building during popular Maple Syrup Festival March 3 and 4. The event, which draws about 2,000 residents for a pancake feast, had to be relocated to Cedar Heights Elementary School last year due to the construction project.