With more than 200 species of birds and 127 acres of woods, wetlands and oak savanna laced with trails, the Springbrook Nature Center feels a bit like a secret garden surrounded by the city.

Now the popular natural area and interpretive center owned by the city of Fridley will undergo a multimillion-dollar transformation that will make it more enchanting for children and adults.

After a decade of trying, the city secured $5 million in state bonding money, part of a $1.17 billion bill approved by the Legislature last month. That money, combined with an additional $2.6 million in fundraising now in the works, will be used to more than double the size of the interpretive center, adding walls of windows, interactive exhibits, more classrooms, a banquet room for weddings and special events, and a dramatic new entrance.

Right now planners are toying with the idea of giant grass blades, cattails and animal sculptures at the entry so it feels a bit like “Alice in Wonderland.” Inside the door, an elaborate river of mosaic tiles on the floor could draw visitors in.

“The concept is to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors,” said Mike Maher, the center’s director.

Maher said he and other Springbrook supporters were thrilled to nail down funding this legislative session after being line-item vetoed twice before on the governor’s desk.

Looking ahead

Construction is likely to start in the spring of 2015.

Preliminary plans call for adding 8,000 square feet onto the existing bunker-style nature center, which was completed in 1981. The new space will wrap around the current building and will be all about the views. The existing 5,800-square-foot building will also undergo renovation.

The construction will employ new green technology. Ideas include a green roof that will be covered in plants and have solar panels.

Outside plans call for more parking, a new pavilion, and an interactive play area for kids. The additional space will mean more room for children’s classes and programming throughout the year.

It isn’t all just for kids. The new banquet room, to overlook the oak savanna, will provide an upscale wedding venue and help the center generate operating revenue.

The banquet hall will also create more space for the center’s popular Discovery Dinner series, where adults share a meal and attend a nature lecture.

185,000 visits

The nature center records about 185,000 visits each year, from regular walkers to school field trips to families. It has three miles of trails.

“We have a pretty incredible diversity,” said Maher, including hundreds of bird species, river otter, fox, deer and beavers.

Fridley acquired the land in the early 1970s. Before then, it had been used as dairy cattle pasture, horse riding trails and a dumping ground for a building contractor.

It was designated a nature center in 1974 after a public referendum.

Since then, development including big box stores and neighborhoods has surrounded Springbrook. The center operates with three full-time staff members, several part-time and seasonal workers and more than 17,000 volunteer hours each year.

“With a lot of people, we’ve heard the term oasis among development,” Maher said. “You can totally lose yourself in a natural environment and immerse yourself in nature without having to drive 20 miles.”