HUDSON — A recent $500,000 check from the Al and Laurie Hein Trust leaves $1 million left to raise to fully fund a Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center visitors center south of Hudson.

Around $2.5 million has been raised so far.

The roughly 5,000-square-foot facility will be built in a wooded area south of South Cove Road and northwest of the Troy Burne Golf Course. The expansion project also includes an improved trail system with some paved trails near the building to ensure accessibility.

Entry to the visitors center will be free, with low-cost activities on the Wisconsin campus such as birding programs and plant identification hikes, according to Carpenter Nature Center's website. The building will feature amenities such as interpretive exhibits and meeting space, including accommodations for K-12 field trips.

"Time in nature has mental, physical and emotional benefits," executive director Jennifer Vieth wrote in an email. "There are all sorts of studies showing these health benefits, and for youth learning in nature has even been shown to positively impact their performance in school subjects including math and science."

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The nonprofit organization has been working to build a permanent structure on its Wisconsin campus since an initial 98-acre donation by the Heins in 1989. The final parcel was acquired in 2008.

"The initial land donation was an incredible gift to the community during that time, but also a gift to future generations," Vieth said. "To preserve habitat for wildlife, and a natural space for people to reconnect to the amazing world of nature, is something that will continue to provide benefits far into the future."

The 300-acre property has a mixture of prairie, oak savanna and wooded hillside that is home to threatened animal and plant species.

Carpenter Nature Center also operates a Minnesota campus near Hastings.

Donation information can be found at carpenternaturecenter.org/learn-about-cnc/wisconsin/donate.

The plan is for the visitors center to open by spring 2022, or earlier barring pandemic-related supply chain problems.