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Construction of amphitheater at Fossil and Prairie Park is underway

  • Naturalist Heidi Reams sits on a rock that's part of an amphitheater that will soon be completed at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside of Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Naturalist Heidi Reams sits on a rock that's part of an amphitheater that will soon be completed at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside of Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Construction is underway to create an amphitheater at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Construction is underway to create an amphitheater at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • A view of one of the ponds from the amphitheater at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The inside of one of the new bathrooms near the kilns at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The new men's and women's restrooms near the kilns of the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The new men's and women's restrooms near the kilns of the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • A closer look at the solar panel that sits on the roof of the restrooms near the kilns of the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. The panel provides solar lighting inside the restrooms. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

There’s nothing like watching your favorite cinematic flick outdoors underneath a moonlight, starry sky.

Don’t forget the popcorn.

“Movie Night” at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford is about to get an upgrade.

In what will be a new teaching and learning tool for Floyd County Conservation, an amphitheater is being constructed on the northwest corner of the Fossil and Prairie Center that overlooks a pond. The park has a movie night each year in late August and the amphitheater just might provide the perfect location to take in a motion picture.

“We’ll have an awesome view,” said Naturalist Heidi Reams. “It was always kind of a dream to get the amphitheater here.”

Jeff Otto, with Otto’s Oasis, started work a couple of weeks ago on moving the big boulders that comprise the sloped landscape. The outdoor arena will allow for a spectacular vantage point of the 60 acres of native prairie grass that includes several bodies of water where wildlife roam free and stop for a drink.

Reams said in addition to an overall improved aesthetic look of the park, the amphitheater will have several uses.

“This will be utilized as kind of like an outdoor classroom type of setting – a natural place to sit for kids and adult programs,” said Reams.

She said the amphitheater could be completed in about a month, depending on weather.

Huge limestone rocks make up a large portion of the amphitheater. Reams said some of those rocks will be smoothed over and form a curve around the outdoor auditorium. The large limestone rocks will be supported by grass steps and brick pavers will be constructed near the back door entrance of the center where a concrete slab used to be.

“The pavers will allow it to filter down through and drain more than a solid structure will,” said Reams. “The down spouts on that side already go into the rain garden. So we’re already kind of directing the water where we want it to go.”

Reams said there is also a large, flat rock that will be used an elevated platform for a speaker to orate to a crowd or school group.

“I think it will be a great addition to our field trips that we have here,” said Reams.

She even said that the amphitheater could be used year round. Reams said she’ll take groups out during the winter to look for animal tracks or collect snowflakes.

“You never know. The uses are unlimited,” Reams added. “There’ll be something different for them to see every year.”

Donations helped fund a portion of the cost to build the amphitheater. Reams said some of the work done by Otto and his crew was slowed by rainfall. Right now the outdoor arena looks unfinished – with gravel and dirt taking center stage. Soon it should be a lush and vibrant outdoor area.

“You have to kind of make a mess in order to make progress,” said Reams.

There’s one more benefit for Floyd County Conservation workers when work is finished on the limestone configuration – break time.

“Staff is looking forward to having lunch out there once it’s finished,” Reams said, smiling.

In addition to the amphitheater, down by the beehive kilns near canoe and kayak access to the Winnebago River, a new restroom has been placed on the site.

“We’ve kind of been working on developing this area a little bit more – making it visitor friendly,” said Reams.

The waterless restroom is a prefabricated building that has vault or what are called pit toilets and a urinal.

“It’s the old outhouse type but it’s a sealed vault underneath it,” said Reams.

There is also solar-paneled lighting inside the men’s and women’s restrooms. A solar panel sits on the roof of the building – which is made of concrete but has the look of wood siding.

“We bring a lot of school groups down here. So this is kind of one of the furthest locations to get to. There’s always someone that needs to use the restroom when we get down here,” said Reams.

It’s been just over a year that heavy winds uprooted 40 mature cottonwood trees near the kilns.

“They were just laid down like dominoes,” said Reams.

The 70 to 80 mph winds created by the storm also destroyed a historic log cabin at the park and caused other damage as well. Reams said trees were replanted to replace the ones that had to be removed.

The kilns were operated by the Rockford Brick and Tile Co. and stopped production in 1976.

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