Emiquon Visitor Use Center Design Recognized by American Society of Landscape Architects

Designer Therese McKee and her partners tell Emiquon’s story through landscape project

Lewistown, ILL | November 28, 2012

The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve is best known for its incredible wetlands, diverse bird and plant populations, recreation and historical significance in Lewistown, Ill. Now it has been recognized by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for its innovative Visitor Use Observatories completed last June.

The Georgia Chapter of ASLA recognized the Emiquon Visitor Use Observatory design team of Atlanta-based MACTEC planning and engineering group (now AMEC E&I), Signature Design (interpretive design), and Sutton Studios (architecture) with the General Design Professional Honor Award. This is a prestigious distinction recognizing a landscape project’s design quality, context, execution, environmental sensitivity and sustainability and value to the client. ASLA is a membership organization created to drive education and careful stewardship, planning and design of culture and natural environments.

“The entire team embraced this project because we immediately felt the importance of Emiquon to the local community and the larger environmental community,” said Therese McKee founder and owner of Signature Design. “After talking at length to Nature Conservancy staff, Board of Trustees members and partners, we knew how passionate they all were about maintaining the history of this place as well as moving forward with the goal of restoring this land. Our end goal was to create a crossroad for visitors – restoration, education and recreation.”

The visitor facilities officially opened June 4, 2011 thanks to transformative gifts from the Hamill Family Foundation, Nancy and Jonathan Hamill and Nancy Hamill Winter. The facilities include two observatories on the edge of Thompson Lake. The Lakeside Observatory provides visitors with an 800-foot boardwalk made of recycled plastics, spotting scopes that can be used to see the wildlife, and a pavilion with Emiquon and Illinois River history themed interpretive panels. The Wetland Observatory includes an elevated platform that gives a bird’s-eye-view of Emiquon, also equipped with spotting scopes and a pavilion with interpretive panels.

“Emiquon is a world-class restoration site and we wanted to give people the opportunity to understand our work while also enjoying the many amenities of the preserve,” said Jason Beverlin, Illinois River Program Director. “We are pleased to see that the dedication of Conservancy trustees, staff and the design team was recognized through the ASLA award. Through this effort we managed to elevate the restoration work at Emiquon by incorporating long-term goals and the history of this place into the design of the facilities. It was not an easy task and there were unique challenges but we met them head-on.”

One major challenge was figuring out what to do with huge slabs of concrete that remained on the land from the farm operation. At the Conservancy’s request, the design team developed plans that recycled the concrete, using it for sign bases, protecting the shoreline, road gravel and creating seat walls.

Emiquon serves as a restoration model throughout the Mississippi River and is influencing floodplain restoration projects on great rivers around the world. Migratory birds flock to Emiquon by the tens of thousands and the site is host to various mammals, reptiles and amphibians. At approximately 6,600 acres, Emiquon is one of the country’s largest wetland restoration projects. Click here to see a slideshow of images from the visitor facility opening day.

Emiquon, an internationally recognized wetland of importance, is about an hour southwest of Peoria.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

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