Center News, Donor Impact

The Bluff Pavilion Project

The copper topped Pavilion sits on the Lake Michigan bluff and serves as a haven for those who gaze down at the changing colors of the lake below. Once the footprint of the original Visitor Center, the roof of the Pavilion takes the shape of an incoming Great Lake wave and symbolizes the vital importance of our Great Lake system. As a birding stopover along the Mississippi Flyway for hundreds of species, this space also overlooks the bluff, which is the highest quality habitat on the Schlitz Audubon property. 

This fall, we embarked upon a transformational project which promises to protect this bluff as well as create a space of great beauty, tranquility, and ecological sustainability. Once complete, it will become an outdoor living classroom for people of all ages to learn and connect. Imagine a plethora of educational programs utilizing this inviting location to teach children and adults about the many wonders waiting to be found in our natural setting. 

Project Overview  

The project reimagined how the area could better serve and delight our visitors, as well as conserve and beautify the Center. It resulted in a plan to remake the 4,581 sq. feet of formerly grassy space into a durable, multiple use courtyard surrounded by thoughtfully designed gardens.    

During the planning phase, our conservation committee and staff interviewed 10 landscape firms. After great consideration, we signed with Stone Oak Landscapes. Their initial design included a welcoming accent circle with seat wall, whose colorful backdrop provides a beautiful alternative for weddings. Four intimate niches, accented by stone seating, accompany one side of the courtyard, surrounded by lush greenery. The courtyard’s semi-permeable stone provides a beautiful surface with great conservation value.   

After the first design was created, Horizon Land Development Services spent two weeks surveying the land to ensure the courtyard meets topography and grading requirements. The survey marked the exact location of existing trees around the courtyard, to preserve these stately native inhabitants. It also informed the specifications needed to replace the paved trail leading from the parking lot. Reducing the grade of the incline on this trail will make the use of wheelchairs easily manageable and help us further realize our goal of bringing nature to all people.  


Construction of the stone courtyard began in early November and is estimated to take six to eight weeks to complete. The Pavilion’s courtyard is being resurfaced with locally sourced stone obtained from a quarry in Beaver Dam. Soft-hued mauve, green, and amber colors, laid in a pattern design, create a wondrous feel that complements the area’s natural aesthetic.  

The blocks are set in the ground about ¼ inch apart, creating a semi-permeable layer. A polymer sand holds these blocks together but allows water to flow through. Underneath the stone pavers, a layer of stone will increase stormwater holding capacity. This will mitigate erosion run-off on the northeast corner of the space, preserving the health of the bluff – home to a remnant old growth forest in pre-European condition, one of the highest quality habitats on the Schlitz Audubon property – as well as the terrace below.  

A charming entrance will invite visitors to fully enjoy views of towering trees and native plants while strolling into the stone courtyard. Part of the project involves narrowing the trail from the parking lot on the southside of the courtyard and converting the current asphalt into natural stone. The new trail will also include a raised boardwalk bridge that allows water to flow to an improved drain and change the trail grade from the parking lot, making it ADA compliant.  

Visitors will enjoy the area’s ambient tranquility, as an attractive screen made of native shrubs, including flowering shrubs such as nannyberry viburnum, witch hazel, and serviceberry separates the courtyard from the parking lot. The new design designates many thoughtfully chosen spots for colorful native gardens, which will not only provide color throughout the season, but provide forage for pollinators. The gardens are scheduled to be planted beginning in the spring of 2024.   


The conservation benefit of the Bluff Pavilion Project alone makes it a worthy endeavor, but there is more value to be realized. The surface allows for greater traffic without damaging any ground area, making it perfect for nature’s complementary aspects, including art, music, and wellness programs. Weddings are enhanced by the durable, usable space. Visitors who attend our classes, including summer camps and large-scale seasonal programs, will also benefit. This renewed space will provide an opportunity for people with specific needs, including SPARK! program participants, to enjoy more time outdoors immersed in a serene, beautiful environment.   

The four niches, set on two sides of the courtyard and surrounded by native plantings, will offer breakout spaces during programs for both children and adults. The sheer number of classes and range of students who will learn in this space about a variety of topics will serve our focus on education, including woodland wildlife, our great Lake Michigan, and the preservation of our bluff and terrace.  

Visitor Experience  

All visitors will enjoy the ambiance of the courtyard, whether they’re attending a wedding or nature class. While on the Central Wetlands Loop, the renewed courtyard will also offer a quiet space for contemplation. The beautiful gardens and the niches within encourage greater communion with nature and will be an inspiring outdoor gathering place for people of all physical abilities.   

The new Bluff Pavilion courtyard provides many sponsorship opportunities that will support our conservation fund, including trails, niches, and benches. If you are interested in learning more, please contact our Executive Director, Helen Boomsma, at