Detroit Zoo to Add Major New Nature Center in Macomb County


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The Detroit Zoological Society is slated to open a nature center in Macomb County by the end of 2019. This facility will join the society's Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Zoological Society

The Detroit Zoological Society today announced that Macomb County will be the location of the new Great Lakes Nature Center. The focus of the new center will be on water and wildlife of the Great Lakes.

As one of the largest nature attractions of its kind, the new nature center will provide opportunities for birding, astronomy, and citizen science, as well as programs that focus on education, conservation, science, animal welfare, environmental protection, and the economic importance of North America’s freshwater inland seas.

The new site will also include habitats for native amphibians, reptiles, turtles, small mammals, shorebirds, and birds of prey. Many of the creatures in these exhibits, such as the sandhill cranes, have been rescued and are not releasable. A native butterfly garden will also be available for visitors to enjoy.

 “As stewards of the environment, we have a great responsibility to protect the Great Lakes and the wildlife that inhabit them,” says Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society. “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.”

The location of the new nature center is to be announced in the spring, and a number of waterfront locations in Macomb County are currently being looked at. Construction is expected to begin this year on a 20,000-square-foot facility that is expected to cost at least $10 million. The center is slated to open by the end of 2019 and will host between 150,000 and 200,000 annual visitors.

“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,” says Mark Hackel, Macomb County executive.

The Great Lakes Nature Center plans to focus on conservation efforts for endangered species. The new center will house a number of Great Lakes fish including lake sturgeon and paddlefish.

“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,” says Candice Miller, Macomb County Public Works commissioner, who serves on the Detroit Zoological Society’s board of directors. “The Great Lakes Nature Center will play a significant role in educating the community about protecting this valuable natural resource.”

The Detroit Zoological Society, which also operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center, will run the new nature center.

The new facility will include conservation efforts for Blanding’s turtles, mudpuppies, massasauga rattlesnakes, piping plovers, common terns, black terns, ospreys, and bats.

The Great Lakes Nature Center will be partially powered by hydro and solar energy and will incorporate eco-friendly policies, practices, and construction such as permeable pavement parking, rain gardens, waste reduction and recycling, and sustainable materials.

Funded through private and foundation contributions, efforts are also underway to secure public funding from various environmental departments and agencies.

With an annual regional economic impact of more than $100 million, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is one of Michigan’s largest paid family attractions, hosting more than 1.5 million visitors annually. Its 125 acres of naturalistic habitats are home to 2,000 animals representing 240 species. 

The Belle Isle Nature Center sits on a 5-acre site surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands on Belle Isle State Park in Detroit.  It provides year-round educational, recreational, and environmental conservation opportunities for the community.  

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