The stars aligned at Quarry Hill Nature Center as its Starlab planetarium returned for Fall Fest for the first time in more than a decade.
It was more than fate that brought the attraction back to the annual event — it was space.
This year concluded the first full summer of programming and events at the Quarry Hill Nature Center’s Prairie House. Construction of the building was completed in June 2018. Grants, including a $400,000 Legacy grant, and donations funded the construction of the Prairie House. Quarry Hill hosts events and immersive education programs in the house.
Construction not only alleviated crowding in the event space at the nature center but also offers a venue more immersed in the outdoors that people attending the events are studying.
“It’s really expanded program space here and given us more versatility,” said Lori Forstie, Quarry Hill Nature Center spokeswoman.
Located a few hundred feet north of the nature center, the building was envisioned to be more than an expansion of indoor nature center space, nature center officials said.
“It’s designed so that the experience of getting to the space is part of the entire experience,” Forstie said. “It sets the tone for being truly immersed in nature.”
The Prairie House was built with solar panels for generating heat and electricity and has a rain water harvesting system, wood pellet stove heating and a wood-burning stove for supplemental heat. It features flexible classroom space with walls that can open to the prairie outside.
This summer the nature center’s “Catching Critters” summer camps were held at the building.
“Students could just walk right out into the field and find their insects,” Forstie said.
Anna Rettmann, 8, attended one of the summer camps.
“We caught some turtles, some fish, a lot of bugs and we caught some caterpillars,” she said.
She was back at the nature center Sunday for Fall Fest. She and her older sister, Elizabeth Rettmann, 13, experienced the planetarium in the Prairie House.
“I thought it was really cool,” Elizabeth said.
“It’s a lovely building,” said Dan Rettmann the girls’ father. “It’s a nice resource to have and the kids enjoy it.”
Nearly every Rochester public schools sixth grade student went through the Prairie House this year as part of the center’s energy conservation workshop. Students learn about the energy-efficient systems employed in the use and construction of the building.
More classes are planned as the school year is underway.
“We could welcome more student groups that were waiting in the wings,” Fortie said.
Center staff are also planning some adult events and workshops in the coming months, she added.
Over the weekend, the venue helped the center have a record setting fall festival. Fall Fest draws about 6,000 people over the two-day event, Forstie said. On Saturday, the center broke its single day attendance record and set new records for food sales.