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Devil’s Lake educational center design expected by summer

January 11, 2019

A Baltimore architecture firm is evaluating potential locations for a new multimillion-dollar interpretive center at Devil’s Lake State Park, with local project leaders expecting a final conceptual design by early summer.

Dave Barger, president of the Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park, said the group chose GWWO Architects at the end of last summer after an “exhaustive” comparison of the nine applicants. GWWO has a good process and a lengthy database of previous work to pull from, he noted.

Devil’s Lake Concession Corporation and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are working with the Friends group, which is spearheading the project. Park Superintendent Steve Schmelzer said a main focus of the center will be to educate visitors on the geological, cultural and historical aspects of the park. It also will feature a cafe run by the concession organization.

In February or March, organizers will meet with various stakeholders — groups such as the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the International Crane Foundation — to gather input on what they’d like to see in the facility.

“We want to make sure that if others have an interest in this too, that they get an opportunity to work with us and see if that can be something that would be included in this facility,” Barger said.

Though the center’s main focus will be Devil’s Lake, it could tie in other entities, such as the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, the Great Sauk Trail and the Ice Age Trail. Schmelzer said it’s likely to function as a welcome center for the state park system to inform visitors of lesser-known parks.

“With such a large number of people coming into the park here, it’d be a great opportunity for us to introduce them to, you know, to those other properties and the things that they have to offer,” Schmelzer said.

No matter what it encompasses, Barger said the facility will be located in the Devil’s Lake area, though organizers want input from stakeholders before moving ahead with a specific location. Sites being considered include the north shore, the south shore, Prospect Point on the West Bluff Trail and Roznos Meadow east of the lake, he said. GWWO will evaluate each site’s feasibility and then develop two schematic drawings.

Once the completed proposal is finished by late spring or early summer, the Friends will organize an informational meeting for the public and then start fundraising.

Like similar facilities, the interpretive center is expected to cost between $6 million and $10 million. That rough figure will be refined as the proposal becomes more defined, Barger wrote in an email. He said the architecture firm quoted a base cost of $85,000 for its work.

On the Devil’s Lake master plan since 1982, the interpretive center would likely take over and expand the educational functions currently being served by the park’s Nature Center.

Schmelzer noted the Nature Center is a historical building — it used to be a clubhouse for a golf course that was located there — so it would remain. It could be used for activities or a meeting place for the Friends group, or as a satellite for the new outreach center.

“There’s just a wide variety of things it could potentially be used for,” Schmelzer said.

Kathryn Gehrke, a DNR parks and recreation specialist, said that decision will be made jointly by the public and the DNR once they know what will be included in the new facility.

Schmelzer said he’s “extremely optimistic” about the project. New technology and displays could offer an interactive experience for visitors, and extra space could allow the park to expand its season and hours. During summers currently, Devil’s Lake facilities are often at capacity, he said.

Having a concrete project on the horizon also will give potential park donors something for which to look forward.

“When it got announced this fall, we had a lot of positive comments,” Schmelzer said. “People are really excited about expanding opportunities and expanding experience. Because, you know, it’s all about the experience when people come to Devil’s Lake, so we want them to have the best experience possible so that they continue to come to state parks and enjoy themselves and protect them for the future.”

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