The Visitor’s Center

The Wisconsin Society of Architects recognized Riveredge’s Environmental Education and Visitor’s Center with the 1991 Design Honor Award.

Designed by the firm of Plunkett Keymar Reginato Architects (Currently Plunkett and Raysich Architects), the building echoes the farm style architecture of the existing farmhouse and 1890s barn. The core of the building is the octagonal visitor center, which reflects Ozaukee County’s unique “Clausling Barn” architecture. This large space houses the visitor reception/sales area and provides interpretive display area. If you’re interested in learning about renting Riveredge facilities for weddings, meetings, or other gatherings, visit here.

The two wings that are attached to the “octagon” provide classroom/laboratory facilities, office work space and a library. The classrooms are used to complement the field activities of classes visiting the Center, and for more formal classes and meetings. The office area provides work space for staff and volunteers. Also housed in the administration wing is the environmental reference library.

Landscaping plays an integral role of settling the building into its site. The landscaping utilizes plants native to Wisconsin prairies and maple forests.

Additional features limit the impact, or “footprint” the building has on the earth. Those features include a geothermal heating system, solar power, and our unique Engineered Wetland Wastewater Treatment System.

Together, the building and the site reflect the commitment of the Center to provide the finest of educational resources to fulfill our mission of education toward responsible earth stewardship.

Funding for the building came from individuals, foundations and businesses who are dedicated to Riveredge’s mission.

The Children’s Nature Library offers a wide selection of nature-themed fiction and non-fiction books appropriate for youth age infant to young adult.  Our library will help your child(ren) to discover and explore their individual interests through reading.

There are many ways to make use of this wonderful resource:

  • Explore individual interests through literature
  • Fulfill school reading requirements
  • Complete research for science projects
  • Gather with family for read-alouds

Bond with your child over a good book in our cozy Nature Library!

Geothermal Heating/Cooling at Riveredge

Riveredge heats and cools the Barn and the Visitor Center with ground water which comes from a well at 55 degrees a year. In heating mode, the system works like your refrigerator in reverse and in cooling mode, the air is moved over a heat exchange that the ground water is pumped through. The beauty of this system is that we don’t create heat energy by burning oil or gas or resistance electric. The energy that is stored in the ground water is concentrated and transferred to the air in the building.

Mimicking Nature

Our Engineered Wetland Wastewater Treatment System (EWWTS) cleans the waste-waters of Riverege by mimicking the processes that occur in sedge meadow and wet prairie communities.  Organic matter and viruses in the wastewater are decomposed by bacteria.  Nutrients, such as phosphorous, nitrogen, cesium and calcium are released during decomposition and taken up by the plants as they grow.  Organic matter is physically filtered from the waste-water as it seeps through the roots and soils of the wetland.

Clean water, free of harmful bacteria, viruses and most of its nutrient load, flows out of this system and into the neighboring sedge meadow.  The nutrients remain behind, imprisoned in the plant’s leaves and stems.  Here they will remain until they decompose.

Our EWWTS consists of two cells which are lined with an impermeable plastic membrane that prevents any of the nutrient-bearing waters from escaping into the ground water before treatment is completed.

The cells are filled with pea-sized gravel.  This provides an environment in which the aerobic bacteria essential to the cycling of nutrients can thrive and offers ample surface area for the attachment of nutrient ions.


The Power of the Sun

Riveredge has installed a 4.2 kilowatt (kW) solar energy (photovoltaic) system above the arbor south of the Visitor Center.  This system uses the sun’s rays to generate electricity.  The photovoltaic (PV) system is connected to the WE Energies power grid, and the electricity it produces will be substituted for some of the electricity we currently purchase from WE Energies.

We partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association to install our PV system as part of a class taught by Chris LaForge, owner of Great Northern Solar in Port Wing, WI, who designed the system.

This location was chosen for the PV installation because there will be no shading by trees or other structures.

Our PV array consists of 3 rows of modules – each 2 units high and 4 units wide, a total of 24 – 175 watt modules.  Each row of modules is mounted at a different angle (20o, 25o, 45o) to maximize output while eliminating shading of modules by other modulues and aesthetically blending the array into our existing facility.

Under ideal laboratory conditions, this system could generate up to 6,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricty per year.  Each kWh equals the electricity used to keep a 100 watt light bulb on for 10 hours.  In the Visitor Center, we currently use about 108,000 kWh of electricity each year.  Riveredge Nature Center is a living laboratory, and while plant leaves can reach out and grow toward the sun, our PV panels are set at fixed angles and will only occasionally have ideal conditions.  We look forward to seeing how much electricity our system can produce in the future.