OKOBOJI, Iowa — Looking toward the Nov. 16 unveiling of Pollinator Paradise, Spirit Lake resident Henrik Gruys, 6, recently asked his friends to donate toward the new Dickinson County Nature Center addition in lieu of purchasing gifts for his birthday.
Henrik says the nature center is his favorite place to play.
"I like petting the animals," he said. In particular, he's friends with Bindi the rabbit and Honey the hedgehog, who reside in the lower level of the nature center.
Henrik and his sisters, Ilsa, 8, and Petra, 4, added that the nature center has "the best frog-catching."
The Gruys family also gets a lot of mileage out of the nature center's bike trails. Each year, they attend the Bee and Butterfly Festival, and the kids select one of the nature center's summer camps to attend. In 2019, Ilsa, Henrik and Petra tagged a monarch butterfly at the nature center and tracked its migration.
When Henrik's sixth birthday arrived Oct. 12, it was a no-brainer to him that he should make a contribution to the nature center. Instead of bringing him presents, Henrik asked each of his friends to give one dollar to him to deliver to the nature center.
"I was kind of surprised that for him, it wasn't about the toys," mom Greta said of her son.
In total, Henrik's kindergarten buddies raised $55.
Donations like Henrik's finance every aspect of the Dickinson County Nature Center, said community relations coordinator Kiley Roth.
The new 2,000-square-foot addition, Pollinator Paradise, opened in April 2018 with only one finished exhibit: the human-sized honey climber. Henrik says it's his favorite part of the whole nature center.
The remainder of the Pollinator Paradise exhibits will debut at a Nov. 16 open house. Roth said that the addition will cover pollinators such as bees, butterflies, thrips, hummingbirds and fruit bats and will include something for all ages with the following exhibits:
Life-sized Apple Orchard. Kids can wear bee costumes and act as bees carrying pollen balls between the orchard's trees.
Food Truck. It will offer "faux meals that we could only have because of pollinators," Roth said, including each meal of the day and dessert. For example, the fajita cart will show that each ingredient in a fajita requires pollination.
"One in every three bites of food you take is due to pollinators," Roth added, saying that the exhibit will showcase this reality.
Build-a-Pollinator. This dress-up exhibit will have bodies of four different pollinators, including legs, antennae, proboscis and wings. Visitors can either dress up as a real pollinator or mix-and-match pieces to invent a "super pollinator."
Save the Pollinators. This is a touchscreen game where users have a choice between various plants, trees and shrubs to plant in a virtual garden. Some of them are good for pollinators; some are not. After receiving the results of their garden, visitors can email the plans to themselves and create a real garden including the good-for-pollinators plants.
"We want people to not only have fun here, but to go home and actually make a difference in the lives of pollinators," Roth said.
Magic Monarchs. This will feature a mirror and a model of half of a monarch butterfly, showing that monarchs are symmetrical.
Along with the new exhibits, the existing indoor beehive is in a new location and the butterfly enclosure, where visitors can observe monarchs' life cycle in real time each summer, is new and improved.
The entire project cost about $1.2 million and was totally donor-funded, Roth added.
"People here are so generous and give so much," said Greta Gruys. Watching Henrik give back to a place that brings him such joy is a source of pride in her son, she added.
The Gruyses plan to attend the Nov. 16 Pollinator Paradise open house. The event will include a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting, crafts in the lower level, coloring projects in the upper level, hikes through Kenue Park on the half-hour and — if weather permits — a bee-themed bouncy house. The open house is free and open to the public.