The Nature Place at Berks Nature
Berks Nature, a more than 40-year-old, non-profit conservation organization, formerly known as the Berks County Conservancy, dedicated The Nature Place in the fall of 2017. Located in Reading’s 100-acre Angelica Creek Park, the project involved the collaboration of the city, neighboring Alvernia University, and Cumru Township, which shares a border with the park. A working example of conservation principles and sustainable development, the Nature Place embodies Berks Nature’s belief that nature is essential to our quality of life.
The Nature Place expands on a former boathouse that overlooked the former lake. The building and related site improvements were structured to minimize the impact to the park and its natural features while bringing visitors of all ages and mobilities within closer view of Angelica Creek Park’s unique environmental features. Old walking trails that were in disrepair were improved in place and lightly re-graded to meet ADA requirements. Trees that had died or that were in the way of planned improvements were harvested for reuse in the Nature Play Area. As a result, offsite disposal of material was minimized. The use of different materials for pedestrian and vehicular access allows park visitors to view the performance of traditional bituminous paving, pervious paving, and grass pavers.
A plaza provides a gathering space, and Nature Play Area encourages youngsters to experience the outdoors with “found” natural objects, such as tree trunks, large root systems, sticks, branches, leaves, and sand. An outdoor classroom engages students of all ages in science, nature, technology, sustainable agriculture, and creative energy activities. Trails lace through wetlands and a core habitat area of the Schuylkill River.
Housing environmental displays, conference rooms, classrooms, a gift shop, and administrative offices for Berks Nature, the 8,000 SF building was designed with the objective of achieving LEED Certification and was recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council with LEED Gold Certification in March, 2019.
Architectural design was by GWWO Architects, of Baltimore, MD. Isett was the site/civil engineer and also provided surveys, landscape architecture, and environmental services, including wetland delineation and measures to protect the construction site from bog turtle migration. Isett also prepared a master site plan for the park. In addition to the being the owner and operator of The Nature Place, Berks Nature was an active participant in the master planning and design processes and provided maintenance care to critical facilities, such as nurturing the rain garden plantings through the establishment period. Construction management was provided by Burkey Construction.
Berks Nature engaged the same design and construction partners a few years later to begin Phase II of the Nature Place facility development. The Rookery, a rooftop expansion of the existing facility, provides additional space for Berks Nature’s community engagement and educational programs, as well as offering a venue for private events. The space has been in use since its ribbon cutting in 2022 and has offered enhanced opportunities for area children who participate in the organization’s on-site preschool program, field trips, and day camps. Funding for The Rookery came from a generous $3.5 million anonymous donation.