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Published: Monday, 4/18/2005

Center offers convenience, educational opportunities

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Neil Munger, director of the Wood County Park District stands in the great room of the $1.2 million nature center that's under construction at the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve in Perrysburg Township. Neil Munger, director of the Wood County Park District stands in the great room of the $1.2 million nature center that's under construction at the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve in Perrysburg Township.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

Visitors to the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve in Perrysburg Township will get their first look at the park's new $1.2 million nature center Saturday.

Neil Munger, director of the Wood County Park District, thinks they'll be impressed.

"There were two things we told the architect: We wanted it to be functional, and to fit in with the surroundings,'' he said. "We think The Collaborative did an excellent job of pulling that all together.''

Situated on the edge of the woods where hikers walk the trails and bird-watch, the nature center looks right at home. It's built with stone and wood and has a 10-foot front porch.

Much of the unfinished wood beams and ceiling materials remains exposed inside the building, and the walls are painted in comfortable earth tones.

"The board wanted to see nature brought into the building,'' Mr. Munger said. "When you walk into the lobby, you're looking right at the woods through this huge window.''

George Thompson, president of the park district's board of trustees, said he expects the nature center to multiply usage of the Knight Preserve at East River and White roads, which has been primarily used by residents out for a stroll or walking their dogs. He said he's pleased with the finished product.

"The exterior blends just perfectly with the setting,'' Mr. Thompson said.

Debbie Nofzinger, one of three park district employees who will be moving their office from park district headquarters on Mercer Road to the nature center, said she's excited about the possibilities.

"We get to have an office in one of the parks, which is great because we can better serve the people from here,'' she said.

The building includes a spacious lobby for educational displays, a great room with a stone fireplace and three walls of windows, a classroom, a look-out-on-nature room, a nature library, and restrooms that will be accessible during regular park hours, 8 a.m. to sunset seven days a week.

The center is situated on the edge of the woods. The center is situated on the edge of the woods.
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"The big thing this building is going to do for us is that here, we can bring in school groups. Without restrooms, without shelter, we just couldn't before,'' Mr. Munger said. "We're excited to get this going. We've been working on it for a long time.''

The nature center was laid out in the original site plan for the Knight Preserve and included in the terms of the agreement with the Knight family when they donated the 42-acre site to the park district in 1993.

Tony and Debbie Knight of Perrysburg are out of town and will not be at the grand opening, Mr. Munger said, although both have been involved in the fund-raising effort for the nature center. About $250,000 has been raised so far, and the park district is using general fund dollars to pay for the building.

While the nature center was designed for educational programming, Mr. Munger expects a busy rental business. Groups will be able to rent the great room and meeting room, and the park district plans to eventually finish the second floor for additional meeting space.

"That will be done as the budget allows,'' he said.

The park district has budgeted for completion of staff offices in the basement level, but that work may not begin until summer. Construction was delayed by the winter weather, so workers are focused on having the main floor ready for Saturday's grand opening.

The nature center will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11:15 a.m. In addition to hikes and other activities, visitors will be able to buy sausage sandwiches and other refreshments.

Park officials can't guarantee the nature center will have its final occupancy permit in time for the grand opening, Mr. Munger said, meaning it could be a few days until the center is open to the public on a daily basis. He expects the park district to begin accepting room rentals in June.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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