Archive: Major New Nature Center Planned for Macomb County

Attraction will focus on conservation of the Great Lakes

February 13, 2018

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has selected Macomb County as the home of the new Great Lakes Center for Nature, which will focus on the water and wildlife of the Great Lakes.

“As stewards of the environment, we have a great responsibility to protect the Great Lakes and the wildlife that inhabit them,” said DZS Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan. “Macomb County, with 32 miles of coastline along Lake St. Clair and 31 miles on the Clinton River, is the ideal location for a major waterfront nature center devoted to the natural wonders of the Great Lakes.”

A number of waterfront locations in Macomb County are being considered and site selection will be announced in the spring. Construction on the facility, which will be more than 20,000 square feet, is expected to begin this year and to cost at least $10 million.  When it opens by the end of 2019, the Great Lakes Center for Nature is estimated to welcome, engage and educate 150,000 to 200,000 visitors annually.

“We are thrilled to be designated as the future home of this exciting waterfront nature attraction, which will provide a unique gathering place in Macomb County for family fun and learning, educational programming and community engagement,” said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

The Great Lakes Center for Nature will be home to a number of Great Lakes fish, including lake sturgeon and paddlefish – which are now extinct in the Great Lakes – and will focus on conservation efforts for these and other endangered species. It will include habitats for native amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, shorebirds and birds of prey – many of which will have been rescued and deemed non-releasable, such as sandhill cranes – and will also feature a native butterfly garden.

The Great Lakes Center for Nature will provide the community opportunities for birding, astronomy and citizen science and will offer programs that focus on education, conservation, science and animal welfare as well as the environmental protection and economic importance of North America’s freshwater inland seas. It will be one of the largest nature attractions of its kind dedicated entirely to the Great Lakes, which hold 21 percent of the Earth’s accessible fresh water.

“In addition to being a beautiful and bountiful resource for tourism and recreation in Macomb County, the Great Lakes serve as a major thoroughfare for transportation and trade,” said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, who serves on the DZS Board of Directors. “The Great Lakes Center for Nature will play a significant role in educating the community about protecting this valuable natural resource.”

The Great Lakes Center for Nature will be operated by the Detroit Zoological Society, which also operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. It will connect in numerous programmatic and technological ways with the DZS’s other campuses and will feature cutting-edge learning technology such as Science On a Sphere. Developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the system uses computers and video projectors to display presentations onto a 6-foot hologram-like globe, including short films about animals and ecosystems as well as animated images of Earth’s activities such as atmospheric storms, climate change and ocean temperature.

The DZS’s long-led Great Lakes field conservation initiatives will be highlighted at the Nature Center, including efforts for Blanding’s turtles, mudpuppies, massasauga rattlesnakes, piping plovers, common terns, black terns, ospreys and bats.

Consistent with the DZS’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the Great Lakes Center for Nature will be partially powered by hydro and solar energy, including an all-in-one ground-mounted solar panel system called a Smartflower. It will also incorporate eco-friendly policies, practices and construction, such as the use of permeable pavement parking, rain gardens, waste reduction and recycling, and sustainable materials.

The Great Lakes Center for Nature will be funded through private and foundation contributions. In addition, efforts are underway to secure public funding from various environmental departments and agencies.