Long Creek Nature Preserve

Palm Coast’s educational nature center celebrates a unique site with minimal disruption.

Palm Coast, Florida prizes its wetlands as gorgeous examples of the region’s unique tidal salt marshes. Recently, the city decided to amplify its ongoing education and outreach to increase environmental literacy in the community. To do that, it needed to create an educational environment that would excite visitors and locals about interacting with nature. For the Long Creek Nature Preserve Education Center, the city chose a jewel; an environmentally-sensitive and beautiful site rich in marine life offering views of nesting water birds, alligators and other Florida flora and fauna.

With extra sensitivity to the land’s unique character, the city of Palm Coast went the extra mile to get the project right. It enlisted a design team composed of architects, interior designers, environmentalists, engineers and archaeologists, including Bellomo-Herbert Landscape Architects (the prime consultant on the project), OCI MEP Engineers, Bishop Structural Engineers, CPH Civil Engineers and VOA.


Design objectives for the 21-acre site were achieved through extensive landscape design aimed at the protection of natural resources, removing exotic and invasive species, stabilizing the shoreline and providing recreational opportunities and open gathering space for visitors including walking trails and a kayak launch. Architecturally, the challenge was to create a 7,000 square foot nature center showcasing the environmental and historical significance of the site. Historically, the site was the main inland trade point for pioneer-bound merchandise from the Florida intercoastal waterway, making it potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

VOA Orlando savored the opportunity to contribute to such a unique project. “We really love to do projects that educate people about Florida nature because not all the visitors here get to see that side of the state. There are so many unique stories about the indigenous plants and animals here,” says VOA Vice President and Project Manager Jay Jensen.

The VOA-designed floor plan for the education center includes exhibit space, a resource center, classrooms, a multi-purpose room and 3,500 square foot of partially covered deck, which was designed to function as a gathering space or classroom for children’s school tours.

The center will serve as a living laboratory for environmental education programs. Oversized windows allow for an abundance of natural light while framing exterior views of the salt marsh, osprey nesting sites, numerous other Florida birds and the park’s pathways.

Project components also include boardwalks and crushed shell nature trails, benches, picnic tables, pavilions, bike racks, and canoe/kayak racks and launch sites. As an avid kayaker, I made sure that even details such as the width of paths to the kayak launch were considered. Little things like that can go into a design to make it more successful. I believe in bringing your passions to the table.


The nature center structure stands up on stilts and with good reason. Establishing a connection between visitors and the site’s wildlife, trees and plants is a primary role for the center. Taking this mission to its natural conclusion, designers felt it should maintain almost zero impact on the site. The design shrewdly lifts the building off the ground on columns to protect the surrounding native vegetation. This enables the site to accommodate busloads of visiting schoolchildren, but confine them to a path and the building’s raised deck, reducing the damage from trampling.

The stilts are about the view. The landscape architect calculated the benchmark height where a person might enjoy optimal views of the tidal salt marsh and nesting ospreys. The raised deck puts visitors above the marsh for prime viewing.
Landscape architects located and measured existing trees; designers ensured they were largely preserved. The building was maneuvered into its site so as not to hit older oaks. Some live trees even go through the building’s expansive deck.


The Education Center is positioned as the cornerstone of an area-wide interpretive network of sites focusing on conservation of natural and cultural resources. It features interior spaces devoted to the educational interpretive program, on-deck views of nature, educational signage throughout the park and elements such as water-harvesting cisterns that make it a laboratory for teaching about ecology.

The exhibit space houses an interpretive program, which teaches visitors about the history of the nature preserve’s local flora and fauna. Exhibits inside the Center deliberately link with experiences and features outside, encouraging exploration and discovery. A double-height picture window in one exhibit area allows visitors to view birds close-by in their natural setting while accessing information at the interpretive station inside. On deck, children can interact with a large-scale simulated bird’s nest, which overlooks the area where the osprey breed and raise their young.

The Center can serve as a laboratory for teaching. For example, the rainwater cisterns provide a visible opportunity to talk about harvesting and using rainwater. Educational signage posted throughout the park, along nature trails and at key points of interest, identifies indigenous plant species and address pertinent environmental issues and sustainable building practices.

The building also functions as a community resource. A small, divisible multifunction room with views is available for rental. It’s another celebration of site. When you have a function there, it nestles into the forest.

“The project was challenging in that it is located in a warm, wet-humid, shaded, saltwater environment prone to hurricanes and also in the middle of a protected preserve. That made it a given to use some of the locally-available materials (coquina stone, existing shade trees) as well as re-cycled and renewable materials to help make this a sustainable project,” says Jay Jensen.

Recycled and rapidly renewable materials such as SIP construction and cementitious siding will be used throughout the building. With its circulation routes outside on the 3500 square foot deck rather than in enclosed corridors, HVAC loads are reduced and the celebration of the site is enhanced. The selection of native plants and xeriscape landscaping optimizes water conservation (irrigation is provided by rainwater collected in rooftop cisterns) while minimizing intrusion from invasive species.

The use of SIPs (structurally insulated panels) from a premanufactured-type system provides effective insulation and reduces the impact on site during construction due to the minimal staging required. All of the above contributes to achieve the project’s LEED Silver certification. Finally, the fully accessible building features ramps which are creatively integrated into the design.

Ground has been broken on the Long Creek Nature Preserve Education Center, but building construction has yet to begin. Needless to say, we’re excited and will post updates here as the project develops.

Size: 7,000sf on 21 acres
Team members: Jonathan Douglas, Jay Jensen, Fred Rambo, John Page, Rob Terry, Lisa Pruett, Craig Murdock, and David Bucy (Interpretive Consultant)

1 Comment

    my name is Jefry Ambran from International University College Twintech & Technology in Malaysia. I was given a task to make a precedent study about anything type of building that similar with Nature Interpretive Centre. So, i decide to take 1 of your design to make a simple precedent study. Can you give / email me the picture of your Floor Plan, i just want to know the area inside the building. i was talking about `Long Creek Nature Preserve Education Center`. thank you.

Write your comment