The Jester Park Nature Center opened its doors to the public this past Sunday, celebrating its grand opening.


A project that has been years in the making, the nature center was constructed with the help of numerous local communities and donors.


“We have wanted a nature center for 60-plus years; we just never had the baseline funding. The Polk County Water and Land Legacy bond referendum gave us half the funding for the building, and we privately fundraised the remaining $5 million,” Polk County Conservation Community Outreach Supervisor Kami Rankin said.


When choosing the location of the center, the Polk County Conservation took many factors into consideration.


“We analyzed different locations within our park system to locate the center, and we settled on Jester Park because of the variety of critical habitats found surrounding the center. We also felt that it was important to locate the center outside of the city, so it was an ‘outdoor destination’ area — yet still a short drive,” Rankin said.


In addition to viewing the new facility, visitors were also exposed to a variety of activities that showcased all that the nature center had to offer. Whether it was learning to canoe, enjoying an ice cream bar out on the patio, or learning about a mammoth tusk found at Jester Park along the Des Moines River, the day’s events were filled with activities that people of all ages could enjoy.


“The Jester Park Nature Center provides the region with recreational opportunities that would be more challenging for an individual community to do on its own,” Grimes City Administrator Jake Anderson said, “The residents of Grimes are avid users of the amenities at Jester Park, and the Nature Center will provide additional programming experiences for those that live in our community.”


“Polk City was approached several years back on potential funding on the Nature Center. Polk City decided to contribute for several reasons,” Polk City City Administrator Gary Mahannah said, “It not only adds to the attraction to this part of Polk County, but with growth comes the need to understand there are many eco-systems in play, in and around the community. Having a place to not only witness this interaction first hand, but to also understand the interaction, was felt to be a positive step forward.”


The Jester Park Nature Center will officially open its doors to the public on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Once open, the center will host numerous programs including camps, classroom programs, senior programs and a chance for kids to explore nature.


“We are excited about the facility and appreciate that Polk County Conservation continues to foster healthy lifestyles through outdoor learning activities,” Anderson said.