After years of planning, the ELC had its grand opening

Alex DeJong/The HeraldVisitors flock inside the Environmental Learning Center during its grand opening on Friday, May 31.

OSKALOOSA— The Environmental Learning Center had a very large crowd at its grand opening on Friday, May 31.

It was a perfect day for the grand opening. The rain stayed away and the sun was shining. Community members have been waiting for this day for years. In fact, people were lining up outside the doors 30 minutes before they even opened.

The original planning for the Environmental Learning Center started all the way back in 2008. There have been six revisions and now its finally done.

The Mahaska County Conservation Board Naturalist, Laura DeCook was very impressed with the grand opening.

"I think the crowd turn out is wonderful, that there are so many people here interested in seeing the building and meet the staff and everybody that's behind putting the building up," she said. "It's just overwhelming support, I feel very happy about it and honored to be a part of it."

DeCook and Executive Director of the Mahaska County Conservation Board, Dave Sedivec, didn't start until 2010. With their experience, they tried helping it continue and give the project more momentum.

Sedivec said he loved the weather for the grand opening. They weren't able to get the landscaping done because of the way spring has treated them with all the rain.

He said his favorite part about the ELC so far is looking inside and seeing all the kids and families.

"You know for environmental education," he said, "we have to train the next generation and that's what we're here seeing today."

DeCooks said it was hard to pick her favorite part.

"It's hard because being involved in helping plan all of it has been a lot of fun, but I would say just the reaction that people have of seeing the exhibits," she said. "Our ideas have come to life and we really want to draw people to the outdoors by what they see in here and its just fun seeing everybody's excitement."

They both believe it is a great thing for the Mahaska County community.

Sedivec said from the education standpoint this is great, along with being more environmentally aware and there's a lot of historical information.

"We have the Freedom Rock, the learning center, the bike trail, eventually there will be another competition disk golf course back behind here and what I like is it brings everybody together," he said. "You will have people come to a freedom rock that may have never thought of going to a learning center or people going to the learning center that didn't know what a Freedom Rock is."

He also said, "economic development-wise we will have people drive all the way through town driving by the gas stations and restaurants. So I'm hoping we provide economic impact for the community as well as the education."

DeCook said the MCCB outgrew their facility at Russell Wildlife.

"Now we have a facility that will work with the needs and the location is excellent for people to stop by and visit," she said. "We are here for the community and we are anxious to continue and broaden our environmental education programs. We are like an opportunity to see what Mahaska County has to offer outdoors."

Board member Linda Fox was highly impressed with the ELC.

"I think its a wonderful monument to the community. I think it will draw people in. It's something that Oskaloosa and Mahaska County can be very proud of that we have things that will get kids and adults off of their internet and their devices and out into the open," she said. "This nature center replicates what is already outside and it will encourage people to go out and see."

She also said the learning center is a positive thing to the Mahaska County community because it's an attractive building.

"It has really unique displays in it. I think it will draw people from out of the county to come and see especially when we have the full-size mammoths skeleton here," she said. "We have real mammoth bones on displays and we will rotate them so it's not the same bones every time and a lot of the things are interactive and we'll have it so its not the same thing every time like, been there done that. It'll be like let's go back and see what's new."

Many community members showed their support by coming out to the grand opening.

Community member Sasha Nagorny thought it was a very neat building.

"It's surprising for a community the size of Oskaloosa, it's really fortunate that we have the opportunity to have something like this," she said, "that we can show off the mammoths that were discovered here. It's really nice that we get to share this stuff with the community in a very convenient location."

Nagorny thinks its a positive thing to the community because it is always good to show science to the community.

"It's really neat to bring that info to the people that are interested and just in general adds more to the community," she said. "It makes the culture a bit more vibrant to show off the things we actually have here in Mahaska County that other people might not know about and brings interest to our community and to the county as a whole."

Michelle Rupprecht, another community member, believes the ELC is very neat.

"It's a great location, so far looking around its gonna be a great learning experience for the kids." She said, "its a good thing for kids to come and learn about the history of, of course, the mammoth and all the nature, outdoor stuff, and the environment."

The future for the Environmental Learning Center is to finish all of their displays, get prairie grass and outdoor classrooms they are going to put outside. They also are going to finish the landscaping outdoors to get it looking more like a natural native area and to continue expanding their education program.

As board member Peggy Wright said, "It's been a long haul but it's been worth it."