Outdoor Discovery Center Points of Interest

The Visitors Center first opened in October 2015. The 5,000 sq ft facility was a long-planned vision of the organization with the original concept being discussed prior to the year 2000. It became part of the Building a Sustainable Future campaign that was launched in 2005. The building decor has been finished with reclaimed barn wood to help bring the feel of the outdoors inside.

The Visitor Center is home to North American wildlife exhibits with taxidermy and live animals. Visitors, young and old, will experience the wonders of nature through interpretive displays.

One wing of the building is dedicated to habitats. It displays taxidermy in dioramas designed especially for our collection by the team from Legends Taxidermy in Scottville, MI.

Another display room has both live animals and taxidermy arranged to illustrate the five vertebrate animal groups.

A large multi-purpose room has mobile display carts that can be moved to make it a large meeting or presentation space.

The wildlife viewing room provides views of the bird feeding station. The room also serves as a resting space with seating and a play area for small children.

Research shows that children are healthier and more successful when they have ample unstructured play time in their lives. The Eldean Family Nature Play Park was created to provide a children’s play area that will inspire creative play using natural materials. Balance beam logs, stumps, rocks, human-size eagles nest, hammock village, spider web for climbing, and several sandboxes are woven around the trees and unmowed areas of this space. The ever popular zipline is also a great way for kids to be kids!

This area provides an opportunity for fun, safe, free play for all children. The nature play park can be accessed from a trail that starts behind the Visitors Center and from a spur of the Sensory Trail near wildlife feeding area. There are several benches for parents or caregivers to rest while children play. It is also conveniently located adjacent to the Discovery Pavilion for easy access to a restroom and picnic area.

In 1995 Fillmore Township officials decided to construct a new township hall building to better serve the needs of the community. With the construction of a new building, the 100 year old Township Hall was left vacant. Wildlife Unlimited of Allegan and Ottawa Counties, the founding organization of the Outdoor Discovery Center, was able to take ownership of the building. The old Fillmore Township Hall was located on 144th street, a little over a mile north of the Outdoor Discovery Center. The building was moved to this site in 1996 where it now serves as a wildlife interpretive center.

Two long time supporters of conservation and wildlife education, John Zelenka and Marion VanSlooten, contributed gifts to Wildlife Unlimited of Allegan and Ottawa Counties in the late 1990’s to help develop an educational facility. They were also two founding members of the Michigan Chapter of Safari Club International. Along with the contribution of funds, they gifted taxidermy to outfit the wildlife classroom. The gifts provided a foundation of funds that were later used to create the Outdoor Discovery Center organization.

Today, over 60,000 people visit the Outdoor Discovery Center to explore the outdoors, view wildlife and participate in outdoor education programs. What was once the Fillmore Township Hall now serves as one of the Center’s main interpretive buildings. The facility is used daily for classroom space, meetings and events.

In an effort to recognize two of the founding donors, Marion VanSlooten and John Zelenka, the Outdoor Discovery Center board of directors voted in 2006 to complete renovations of the building and officially name the facility Founders Hall. Until the addition of the Visitor Center, this was the one publicly accessible building on the Outdoor Discovery Center. It contains taxidermy exhibits, one live screech owl, reptiles, and amphibians. It will continue to be the main wildlife classroom used by students and groups for years to come. It is no longer open to the public for general visitation.

The De Witt Birds of Prey Center was built in 2016. It replaced our original facility built in 2003 that was located near Little Hawks Discovery Preschool.

All of the birds housed in the facility have been permanently injured or disabled so that they can not return to the wild. We maintain permits with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to house the birds and use them for education purposes. Our bird handling staff have gone through a series of trainings to ensure that both birds and people are as safe as possible when husbandry or handling of the birds is taking place. No volunteers or non-permitted individuals are allowed to come in contact with the birds per our state and federal permits.

This unique cultural history exhibit and program space explores the links between Indigenous Peoples cultures, traditions and the natural world. During programs, students learn the life ways of the People of the Three Fires Tribes (Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi) using authentically reproduced artifacts and structures built by native and non-native people.

Structures in the village include:

  • Wah-gin-ogun – traditional bent pole wigwam using maple and tamarack saplings, white cedar bark covering, and basswood bark ties
  • W-jan-dow-gum-uk – traditional cook house with an open-sided structure made of osage orange poles, cedar and maple pole roof, and white cedar bark covering
  • Nuh-sweh-ogun – traditional three pole house similar to a teepee but when complete would be covered with cattail mats; a transitional house used when moving between seasonal homes
  • Nish-naw-bay Get-eh-gun – traditional Three Sister’s Garden demonstration area with corn, pole beans and pumpkins

The Outdoor Discovery Center has three pavilions on-site that may be reserved. When they are not reserved by a group or being used for programming, they are open to the public.

  • all pavilions have picnic tables and a trash can
  • no fires or grills are permitted under pavilions (grills can only can be used when renting a pavilion and with explicit permission)
  • no banners, ribbons, or other decorations may be hung from the pavilions (even during rentals)

Discovery Pavilion – 60′ x 32′ pavilion with 24 picnic tables placed either under the pavilion or on the adjacent concrete pad (seating for 170 people), indoor restroom, near the main trailhead, Imagination Forest and DeWitt Wildlife Enclosure

VanDam Outdoor Classroom – 20′ x 30′ pavilion with eight picnic tables adjacent to a fishing pond (fishing by permission only), outhouse located approximately 1/8 mile down the trail, located in the middle of the ODC Nature Preserve

Spoelhof Outdoor Classroom – 20′ x 30′ pavilion with eight picnic tables adjacent to a fishing pond (fishing by permission only), outhouse located approximately 1/4 mile away at Fillmore Discovery Park

Click here to inquire about a rental.

The Kuipers Archery Education Facility is NOT open to the public for archery. The area is used by school and organized groups for archery education including learning about early hunting technologies.

Members of the ODC Network may use the archery facility for target shooting after checking in with staff at the Visitor Center. A written release must be signed and a safety training with one of our range masters must be completed prior to the first use by a member.

Equipment available for members use includes bag targets, genesis bows, recurve bows (by request), and aluminum arrows. Members may bring their own equipment for target shooting but no broadhead or hunting points may be used. 

The Fillmore Discovery Park is located on the southwest edge of the nature preserve. The site consists of 5 acres and was home to an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman named Robert Vander Muelen and his young family. The ponds located immediately north of the park were sculpted and enlarged by Robert in order to provide enhanced habitat and a more diverse environment for local wildlife.

On April 19, 1985, Robert, his wife Linda, and their son, Joshua, died in a plane crash on Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan. They left behind their two young daughters, Rachel and Sarah. The house was sold and eventually destroyed before the property passed into the control of the Outdoor Discovery Center.

Upon discovering the plans in store for the property by the Outdoor Discovery Center, Rachel and Sarah raised funds from friends and family to begin redeveloping the site. With their help, the property was transformed into a park focused on connecting people, land and nature which was a cause near and dear to Robert and Linda Vander Muelen.

A major highlight of the park is that it has been developed as a natural playscape with numerous features that promote creative play in a natural environment. It also provides the only public fishing pond found on the Outdoor Discovery Center. Limited parking is available at the entrance at 5733 142nd Avenue.

The Outdoor Discovery Center nature preserve’s diverse property is home to a number of wild animals and plants. Highlights include:

    • 401 different vascular plant species (2004 Natural Features Inventory)
    • Seven different plant communities
      1. Submergent Marsh
      2. Emergent Marsh
      3. Southern Wet Meadow
      4. Shrub-Carr
      5. Transitional Hardwoods
      6. Remnant Dunes
      7. Field and Prairie Restoration
    • 26 species of mammals
    • 10 species of amphibians
    • 10 species of reptiles
    • 172 species of birds (Nature Preserve Checklist)