Building for the future

Posted on April 1, 2015 by Amy Hanson

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve carries on vision of namesake

Photo courtesy of David Lintz, COLLABORATION, LLC

Photo courtesy of David Lintz, COLLABORATION, LLC

Everyone likes critters and creatures at a distance, but imagine a snake falling onto your desk or wildlife digging into the same earth that is shared with your office. Eeek! This has been the case on occasion at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton, not to mention water seepage issues in the ceiling, walls and floors. The earth shelter was constructed with soil on each side and is now rapidly aging with an outdated infrastructure.

“Physically, it’s over the hill,” says Executive Director Randy Tuma who shared stories of issues with the structure. “They (the board of directors) decided instead of just remodeling, we had to plan for the future.”

Thirty four years can cause a great impact. The Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve is looking to continue its lifetime well into the future with its new capitol campaign, “An Outside Chance.” The campaign seeks to raise funds to develop a new nature center.

“It’s desperately needed. The number of people who come to the preserve has increased greatly,” says John Bubolz, board treasurer and son of founder Gordon Bubolz. “It has faired us well, but is not up to today’s standards. … We can’t wait for the new nature center to be built.”

When the existing structure was created, it was designed with many “green” features in mind, including solar panels, a greenhouse, wood burner and the overall design, says Tuma.

“It was way ahead of its time,” he adds. “All of that combined made for a very energy-efficient building.”

It is, however, time for more than just a facelift.

“It’s past its life expectancy,” adds Development Manager Kristine Schuetze. “It’s lived its life and needs to be redone.”

The estimated cost for the updated and expanded center is $3 million dollars. Fundraising for the campaign began in 2012 and since then, $1.75 million has been pledged by Fox Valley benefactors. When $2.6 million is raised, Community First Credit Union will provide a loan for ground to be broken. The goal is to begin construction in spring and complete the building within eight to 10 months. Since the new building will be constructed where the current building stands, staff will be moved to a separate outbuilding onsite and no disruption in service will occur at the preserve, Tuma notes.

Another issue is demand. The Bubolz Nature Preserve has had to turn away field trips due to space limitations. The current center only has one meeting room and needs to be open in case of inclimate weather. On average, 6,700 school children visit the preserve annually. The hope is that number increases to 10,000 students within the first year of the new center opening.

“(The new center) gets more kids involved in outdoor education and increases our revenue from those programs,” says Schuetze.

Plans also include additional rental spaces and a gift shop to enhance revenue and the visitor experience. A learning center, coffee shop, library and volunteer lounge also will be incorporated. In addition to rental spaces, plans are in the works for onsite catering to accommodate weddings and other special events. Each space will have its own name and there are still naming rights available, Tuma notes. The building also will be built to LEED standards and constructed by Bayland Buildings.

“They came to us and said, ‘We’d like to build your building at no cost,’” says Tuma. The architectural plans also were donated by David Lintz of COLLABORATION, LLC. The new center’s design is nearly triple the size of the existing space at just under 18,000 square feet.

Photo courtesy of Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

Photo courtesy of Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve

According to Tuma, projections for the new center are to accommodate 100,000 guests annually compared to the current 60,000 visitors who spend time at the preserve each year.

“I’m most excited about the fact that we’ll have multiple areas that the public can take advantage of,” Schuetze shares.

Since January, the preserve has received 10-15 calls about weddings alone.

“People come out here and have their engagement photos done all the time,” Schuetze notes. The preserve also has a gazebo.

Corporate team building activities also are becoming popular.

“Many of the programs we do for the kids also relate well for the adults,” Schuetze says. One such activity that can easily be modified is the winter survival program. A ropes course may be added to the preserve in the future if demand permits.

Prior to the design phase of the new center, a feasibility study was conducted, along with visits to other nature centers to get input on do’s and don’ts that could be applied to the process, Tuma shares. Follow-up visits also have been held, along with informational meetings with the board of directors, staff and the community.

“Even though the building is bricks and mortar, it’s really going to enhance the preserve as a whole,” Tuma says.

John hopes the project will garner the attention of the Fox Cities, draw more people to explore and carry on his father’s vision of “refreshing their minds and re-energizing their bodies with all the things that nature centers have to offer.”

“They’re going to like what they see when they get there,” he adds.

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve was just one of the half a dozen nature centers its namesake helped to found, John notes. And, if there was ever a doubt that Gordon would approve of the improvements, his son puts those thoughts to rest.

“This new nature center would be something that he would absolutely be delighted with,” John shares. “It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be his son that has carried on this tradition. I’m so happy that we have made good progress on something that’s desperately needed.”

For more information on the campaign, visit


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