Jill Dreves remembers the day a sinkhole opened underneath what was to be the permanent home of her nonprofit, Nederland's Wild Bear Nature Center.

That Sunday morning in 2013, she happened to be in the nature center's temporary home in the Caribou Village Shopping Center when a sheriff's deputy called: "He said, 'You have a problem.'"

"It was awful," she said of the 25-foot-deep sinkhole in the middle of the building pad. "It was horrible. We were in shock. It didn't make sense."

The nature center had acquired the 5-acre site on Boulder County open space land north of Mud Lake in 1999 but hadn't had the infrastructure to raise funds and build yet, and then the sinkhole over an old tungsten mining tunnel set plans back further.

Belle, the resident hedgehog at the Wild Bear Nature Center in Nederland, which has now identified a new site that will serve as the nonprofit’s
Belle, the resident hedgehog at the Wild Bear Nature Center in Nederland, which has now identified a new site that will serve as the nonprofit's permanent home. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

But last week, the nonprofit completed a year-and-a-half-long process for a land exchange and acquired a new 5-acre open space site at the crossroads of County Road 128 and Highway 72 — a milestone for the nonprofit.

"It's a major milestone," Dreves said. "It's a really big one because we've been sitting on this issue for a bit of time."

Now begins the fundraising and designing of what will be up to an 8,500-square-foot nature center in view of Arapahoe Glacier and North Arapahoe Peak.

Diane Israel, a Naropa University professor, donated $10,000 in hopes it would inspire others to donate.

"I see Jill (Dreves) and this project as Mother Earth," Israel said. "I see it as an opportunity for all of us to get involved and to really help heal this planet."


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Currently, the center operates out of a rented space in a Nederland strip mall that is strung with Christmas lights and teeming with critters for children to learn about, including western tiger salamanders, turtles, a garter snake, a curly-haired tarantula, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and a donated African pygmy hedgehog named Belle.

"What we don't know, we fear," Dreves said, as she picked up a scorpion from a tank. "The more we know, the less we fear, the less we want to hurt nature."

At the new site, Dreves envisions a center with dedicated spaces for educational programs, storage and offices; more professional exhibits; and a place for general visitation.

The sinkhole underlines the importance of her mission in founding Wild Bear: fostering an appreciation of the environment and promoting an ecologically sound community.

"It's a statement of historic use of land — the mining up there was in the late 1800s — and how we can have things surface from those things forever, decisions we make now," Dreves said. "We may think things are OK until the Earth screams at us."

The center, she hopes, will become a community space where people from the area, and visitors, can appreciate nature.

"It's really important that people can go somewhere for free and hang out in community space, with the idea that we're one with nature," Dreves said.

"And we don't have anything like that. You go to most places all across the country and you can find places like that. This is the perfect place for it."