July 2011— On June 4, we officially opened our new visitor amenities at Emiquon to the public. With beautiful weather and nearly 300 smiling people in attendance, the grand opening event was a huge success. However, I feel the real story of success is one dating further back than the grand opening. It begins with the day we received support for this project.
Support came from Jonathan and Nancy Hamill and the Hamill Family Foundation. They came to The Nature Conservancy in Illinois in July 2008 because they wanted to fund the Emiquon Wetland Observatory and educate the public on the importance of Emiquon and the value of wetlands.
After the Hamill Family Foundation gift, we soon began working on design plans with MACTEC engineering. The plans were complete in fall 2009, and construction of the facilities began just a couple months later in December. From the day we broke ground to the day we opened, our staff, the engineers and those physically constructing the facilities worked together to overcome obstacles and build the new facilities we see today.
One of the first challenges we ran into was turning busted concrete from Emiquon into rock suitable to line the shorelines, gravel the new roads and become seat walls for each of the observatory pavilions. Re-using the concrete previously on site was an important conservation effort to all involved, and the efforts paid off. We kept 20 acres of concrete from being thrown away and saved tens of thousands of dollars by not having to purchase the rock.
Probably the most significant hindrance throughout the construction process was high water. Flooding caused us to take a 60-day hiatus from construction so Conservancy staff could install a new electric line to our pumping station and then pump about two feet of water out of the lakes.
Through all of the construction and issues with high waters, Emiquon continued to serve as a popular refuge for migratory birds. This past season we saw snow geese and coots and by the 100,000’s, in addition to pelicans, cormorants, black-crowned night herons, black-necked stilts and large numbers of various waterfowl species.
During the course of planning and constructing these facilities to the day they opened, we’ve created a story of true success here at Emiquon, success for nature and success for the people who are now able to enjoy the benefits of these new facilities. I encourage everyone to come to Emiquon to see the new amenities, go fishing, go birding and create their own stories.
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