MCCD Visitor Center Opens in Ringwood, While State Closes Roadside Tourism Center

The newly renovated Lost Valley Visitor Center and office building in Ringwood. There is an open house from 10-2 Saturday.

Maybe there’s no connection, but when I read in the Quad City Times that the State of Illinois closed all 15 tourism centers on July 1st and then learned that the McHenry County Conservation District was opening a visitor center in Glacial Park, for some reason I linked them.

Open for public inspection from 10-2 Saturday, although the staff is probably willing to show people around pretty much anytime the offices are open.

The purposes are different, of course.

The state is giving out regional tourism pamphlets, while the Conservation District’s Visitor Center is a destination.

You really have to hunt for it to find it. It is truly in the middle of no where, rather than being next to a four-lane highway, as most of the tourism centers are.

And there are the different sources of funding.

State government relies mainly on income and sales taxes, while the Conservation District is support4d by property taxes and grants.

And, the State Tourism Center is laying off people because operating funds are just not available, while the MCCD’s $6.75 million renovation of Comdisco’s hunt club is capital money.

I asked MCCD Board President Nancy Williamson where the money came from and here’s the explanation from the handout:

“The LVVC renovations were funded from unrestricted ‘Reserve’ balances from the District’s Capital Fund.

‘The revenue sources that generated the unrestricted Reserves were derived substantially from grant reimbursements from previous projects completed by the District over the last 10+ years. (Projects unrelated to the LVVC renovations.)

“The grant reimbursements would be received after the projects were 100% completed and paid for.

“Therefore, when the grant moneys were received, the Board elected to set the money aside and designate it for future capital improvements.”

You might want to read that again.

An alternative use of the money would have been to abate taxes on the non-referendum and referendum bonds.

The reception for elected officials and other notables was winding down as I arrived about 6:30 Friday evening.

The Lost Valley Visitor Center is quite splendid.

Another room with a view. Cindy Skrukrud told me she was going to bring her computer over and enjoy the WiFi access. No reason others couldn't enjoy the ambiance and follow her example.

It was subsidized by a $434,435 grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for permeable paving bricks.

That’s a lot of bricks.

A view of the permeable brick parking lot.

They cover the entire parking lot.

It shows that it can be done.  Williamson said it would be helpful to the oaks.

There was a subsidy from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation for $74,933 as well.

It helped dig the six wells that are used by the heat pumps which were installed. The handout says that “$3-4 heat for every $1 spent. Annual savings of approximately $28,000.”

I was given a tour by an enthusiastic Williamson.

As we started down the long hall that used to lead to bedrooms, she point to a solar light tube which lessens the need for electric lights.

MCCD Board President Nancy Williamson and Cindy Skrukrud gave me a tour of the facility.

“That would make a good picture on the blog,” she noted.

Solar light fixture.

Although the storm clouds were rolling in about 7 PM last night, natural light was still making it to hallway.

Two divisions are headquartered at the facility:

  • Natural Resources Management
  • Education

Envision a row of bedrooms in front of you. The Conservation District punched holes in the middle of them and created offices on both sides of the resulting hall.

The regional office of the Illinois Natural Resources Commission is also in the sprawling building.

There are rooms galore for teaching opportunities.

A classroom with a view.

What views they have!

There are multiple decks where one can be at the same level of the birds in oak trees.

One room with a deck outside had stuffed game.

And, there are multiple places that will made excellent venues for fundraisers.

The biggest one, finished Thursday, was a floor over the old swimming pool.

It’s pretty big, but there are other smaller outdoor spaces.

Here's what you see when you look east in the ;arge room nearest the parking lot.

At the east end of the building, offices are on the second floor, but the first is a big meeting room.

Here's the west end of the big room. Nancy Williamson explains its purpose.

On the way back to the main entrance, I was shown a locker and shower room for those who maintain the conservation areas.

There were also offices for those engaged in educational outreach.

Clean up had begun by the time I finished my tour.

As Williamson was completing our tour, people were cleaning up from the reception.

No one was parked in the most convenient parking spaces.

As I mentioned, when I arrived, most people had left.  The first thing I noticed was that no one was parking in the spots closest to the building.

It looks as if no elected official has a "low-emission vehicle," but that's not true, because Nunda Township Trustee Tom Palmer has one. Either he didn't come or had already left.

I wondered why.  Looking at the signs that read, “RESERVED FOR LOW-EMISSION VEHICLE.”

Kathy Bergan Schmidt, Mary McCann and Tina Hill walk down the water permeable brick driveway.

Then I saw three County Board women–Kathy Bergan Schmidt, Mary McCann and Tina Hill–leaving the event.

John Hammerand, another county board member and his wife Cheryl were next.

The next two were Wonder Lake Fir

The view of Lost Valley from near the entrance of the new Visitor Center.

On the way out I took a couple of shots of the hazy landscape.

A view from farther along the exit road.

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