“A place for people and nature” became the Okehocking Nature Center Project's tagline. It represents the driving agreement behind this project—that connecting all generations to nature is critical to future human well being, conservation, and environmental health. The steering team felt a true sense of urgency for families, schools, and environmental and community organizations to collaborate in promoting multiple learning and recreational experiences with, and in, nature for people of all ages.
The nature center partners look to heal the societal affliction which Richard Louv so persuasively identifies as "Nature Deficit Disorder" in his book, Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Finding words for what many modern parents themselves are beginning to grasp, Louv puts it succinctly: “Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity. This need is revealed in two ways: by an examination of what happens to the senses of the young when they lose their connection with nature; and by witnessing the sensory magic that occurs when young people—even those beyond childhood—are exposed to even the smallest direct experience of a natural setting.”
Study & Design Process
A feasibility study is undertaken to determine whether a planned project is likely to be both practical and successful, as well as to estimate its cost.
A schematic design incorporates all of the mutually agreed-upon goals and concepts developed during the design charrette, or workshop (discussed below).
Directed by architect Muscoe Martin of M2 Architecture, project consultant team members included Viridian Landscape Studio (landscape architect), Bruce Brooks and Associates
(mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer), Cahill Associates (civil engineer), and Don Watson (nature center specialist).
Community members made significant contributions to the planning process through a series of public events made possible by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (DCNR) Community Conservation Partnerships Program Feasibility Study and Schematic Design grant to the Township. Regular project articles in the WillisTowne Crier newsletter also kept people informed. Postings on memo boards, yard signs throughout the township, email announcements, fliers to Willistown residents, and ads in the Daily Local News all helped assure a good turnout for three public forums held at the Upper Main Line YMCA and General Wayne Elementary School.
A kaleidoscope of ideas and opinions had been put forth, mulled over, challenged, rejected, and supported since the initial project visioning workshop a year prior. The project consultants, steering team members, and stakeholders were always mindful of the need for community input from the project’s inception. Recurrent themes that emerged from the public meetings were incorporated into a two-day design charrette (intensive workshop) which produced actual building proposals. The process was captured in a charette workbook. The result: A structure of approximately 7,500 square feet, perched, much like the bank barn previously on the site, on about 1/5 of an acre out of the total 180 acres that comprise Okehocking Preserve.
View the Charrette Workbook
Project steering committee members, led by Willistown Township Parks & Recreation Director, Mary Hundt, included Willistown residents and area programming and educational organizations committed to creating a nature center and providing programming at Okehocking. This group became the Feasibility Study & Schematic Design grant steering committee. Members included:
Brian Raicich, Upper Main Line Y
Sandy Claus, Great Valley School District
Dick Menn, Chester County Master Gardeners
Derek Stedman, Southeast PA Habitat Resource Network
Jim Rapp, Malvern Troop 7 Boy Scouts, and liaison to the Diamond Rock District of Chester County BSA Council
Bill Hartman, Willistown Conservation Trust
Brad Zerr, Paoli Hospital
Norman MacQueen, Willistown Township Supervisor