As early as 1965, the long-range plan for the Center called for a building with a museum, library, auditorium, classroom, workshop and related facilities. In 1970, three years after the completion of the Nature Observatory, Mr. Dow prepared a preliminary sketch for a building on the bluff overlooking the Chippewa River with an earthen-covered roof and berm at an estimated cost of $500,000. However, the acquisition of a more desirable parcel of land changed both the site and design of the planned Interpretive Center.
The final building plan for the 20,000 square foot brick structure was completed in November 1973. The cost of construction including furnishings and landscaping came to just over $1,00,000, with funding provided by the Dow Foundation. After surface-plowing the site to locate and retrieve any Indian artifacts, the groundbreaking ceremony was held on November 18.
At the request of the Building Committee, Mr. Dow’s design featured an overlook with views up and down the Pine River. The 180-degree curve in the design of the projecting overlook is echoed in the smoothly rounded corners of the exterior walls and in the small turret next to the entrance. It was, in fact, the intent of the Building Committee to reflect the circular dwellings long associated with Indian culture (tepee, kiva, mound) since the locale of the Nature Center was an American Indian site.
In addition to the river overlook, another unique feature was the indoor terrarium with boulders, plants and a waterfall under a central skylight in the lobby. The interior included a museum with a wildlife viewing area, auditorium and stage, three classrooms, display rooms, library, shop area, caretaker’s living quarters, boardroom, offices and gift shop area.
The Interpretive Building was officially dedicated and open to the public on May 17, 1975. It was renamed the Visitor Center in 1988.
Special thanks to Dennis Pilaske, Executive Director of the Chippewa Nature Center, for the construction photographs.