When the six bison arrived at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park in February 2011, attendance at the park increased by 20,000 over the previous year, according to Deputy Director of Metro Parks Larry Peck.
Metro Parks officials hope to see an increase in attendance again as the park's new nature center opens to the public.
The new nature center, which was one of the items promised to Franklin County voters if a 2009 levy were approved, is the largest in the parks system at 14,000 square feet. The park itself is the largest in the system at 7,500 acres, which includes a portion of Big Darby Creek.
Metal cutout sculptures that line the walkway to the nature center inform visitors of the vast number of wildlife found at the park, which includes 29 species of mammals, 80 species of fish, 750 plant species, 37 reptile and amphibian species and 680 insect species.
According to Peck, the nature center cost just north of $5-million to build.
The parks system has applied for LEED certification for the structure, which features a number of environmentally friendly features. Among them is a green roof with a four-inch layer of soil and sedum plants that act as a natural heating and cooling agent, a geothermal water system, windows that open to allow for passive cooling in the warmer months and a sloping roof with "rain chains" to direct the flow of rain runoff.
A bioswale, which features soil, rocks and plants that naturally remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, is at the center of the main parking lot.
The area around the center will consist of prairie plants and native grasses, along with a geology area showcasing some of the rocks found in the park.
The nature center also features two large decks for viewing the bison in the pasture and a spotting scope for a closer view.
The bison herd, which was introduced to the park with the help of The Wilds, consists of an adult female and five younger females. According to Peck, they have multiple pastures in a 72-acre area of the park where they roam and the rangers move them from the different pastures "only if they're ready to move."
The nature center aims to be a family-friendly center and an educational resource, he said. One of the focal points of the new center is a 53-foot living stream that runs through the middle of the lobby. It is a model of Big Darby Creek and will feature rocks, mussels and other objects from the creek.
Interactive displays in the lobby teach visitors about the bison, frog species in the wetlands, prairie species and Big Darby Creek.
Artifacts sourced from the property, including prehistoric tools, jewelry and arrowheads, are also on display in the main lobby. Some of the artifacts are from the Voss Mound and Village, which were found by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s when they were working along the Big Darby Creek watershed.
According to Peck, the center will also serve as an education resource for local schools.
Peck said the center is "driven by science, since kids in schools perform better on the science portion of proficiency tests," when participating in programs such as the ones the center will offer. The nature center features two large classrooms, including one with a SMART Board for interactive learning, and a mud room for children to wash after being outside.
Big Darby Creek, which can be accessed by program participants on the new half-mile Riffle Run trail near the nature center, will also serve as an educational tool.
Although the nature center wants to welcome visitors, Peck said that the aim is to get people to explore the park.
"We want people to come here and then get them out into the park," he said.
The nature center, 1415 Darby Creek Drive, will open on Thursday, Oct. 25. An open house is scheduled Oct. 27 and 28.