The Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory recently launched a campaign to raise $5 million for a major expansion of its facilities.

The expansion plans include building a 7,700-square-foot Discovery Center that will house permanent and rotating exhibits and six animal enclosures that can be viewed from inside and outside the center. In addition, the Discovery Center will include the Earth & Sky Theater, a planetarium theater with a full projection system and seating for up to 94 visitors.

The nature center is also planning to expand its existing observatory and build an 1,800-square-foot pavilion on the bank of Lake Aspen that will provide an outdoor learning space for the nearly 5,000 students that visit the nature center each year.

Abby Rowland, director of philanthropy at the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory, said the goal is to raise the $5 million by June 2021. Construction on the expansion projects could begin before June 2021 depending on how much money is raised, Rowland said.

“We do have a plan to build as funds come in with the focus being on the outdoor learning pavilion and expansion of the observatory,” Rowland said. “We expect those to be built sooner than the Discovery Center.”

So far, the nature center has secured about $1.2 million of its $5 million goal through grants and donations. Those interested in donating to the project can visit the fundraising campaign website at www.campaign.snco.org.

The current nature center was built in 1984 to accommodate between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors each year. Since then, visitation has skyrocketed to more than 45,000 visitors in 2017.

Sunriver in general has seen similar visitor growth over the years and has responded accordingly by building the Village at Sunriver and the Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center, Rowland said. Now is the nature center’s opportunity to expand for the increased visitation, she said.

“We are definitely bursting at the seams,” Rowland said. “The demand is driving our need.”

All the new facilities on the nature center’s 8-acre campus will be able to host more than 70,000 visitors each year.

The Discovery Center will more than double the nature center’s existing area for interactive exhibits and hands-on learning about plants and animals. The planetarium theater will allow visitors to stargaze and watch a planetarium program during the same visit, and the outdoor pavilion by Lake Aspen will help the nature center expand itsK-12 outreach and education program.

Overall, Rowland said, the planned expansions will complement the nature center’s current offerings.

“This just really enhances what we are currently doing,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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