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$250,000 Gift for Nature House

Fundraising for future center now 80 percent complete.

Christmas came early for supporters of the proposed Nature House in Reston. The Peterson Family Foundation, a Fairfax-based foundation with Reston ties, gave $250,000 gift to the Friends of Reston, the nonprofit fund-raising arm of the Reston Association (RA), RA officials trumpeted last week.

“Seeing as we are right around the holidays, I can’t think of a better gift,” said Katie Shaw, the RA environmental education manager. “The Friends, especially Chuck Veatch, deserve so much credit for all they have done to raise money for this facility. This was major. Hopefully, it will be inspirational to someone else out there to contribute to this very worthy cause.”

The donation marks a significant milestone for the Friends of Reston’s capital campaign, and for supporters of the long proposed center. The quarter million dollar bequest — the single largest procurement for the Nature House, to date — puts the Nature House fundraising effort just over the $600,000 mark in corporate and community donations. With last week’s gift, fundraisers have now secured better than 80 percent of the necessary $750,000, the estimated cost of design and construction for the entirely privately funded facility.

“We looked at this as absolutely necessary to fulfill the mission of Reston,” Veatch said. “A nature education center is an unfulfilled promise in Reston. We need it because nature is such an integral part of all that we are about and all that we do here in Reston.”

VEATCH, A MEMBER of the Friends board, spearheaded the discussions with the Peterson foundation. “From the get go, they were excited about the project,” Veatch said, of the foundation. “It was a magical gift at the right time.”

Though she had heard rumblings and rumors about a “major gift in the works,” Shaw said she was extremely “amazed and astounded” to hear the official news, but she cautioned that the work is not over, adding that anyone who would like to make a holiday contribution to the Nature House is welcomed to do so “This donation brings us so much closer to our goal, we are just thrilled,” Shaw said. “It is still critical that the rest of the dollars continue to come in to put the project over the top.”

The Peterson Family Foundation is a philanthropic organization established by the Peterson family to support community projects relating to education, nature and the environment, RA officials said. “I am glad that we could play a part in making the Nature Center a reality for this community,” said Rick Peterson, president of Peterson Properties. “The Nature House will be the new crown jewel of Reston.”

Jerry Volloy, the RA executive vice president, applauded Veatch and the entire Friends board for their “tireless” work on behalf of the Nature House. “They have also worked hard and continue to actively work on putting the finishing touches on the canvas that is Reston.”

Volloy also singled out the Reston business community for their continued support. “For the business sector to step up as they have despite the realities of this depressed economy says a lot,” Volloy said.

Veatch, who along with Claudia Thompson-Deahl, created the photography book, "The Nature of Reston," is donating all the proceeds to the Nature House cause. "So far we've made over $70,000 from the book," he said.

FIRST ENVISIONED by Reston founder Robert Simon, the Nature House, included in Reston’s original comprehensive plan in 1964, will be a year-round nature education facility. “I am just euphoric,” said Simon, who had known about the recent donation for months. “It never would have happened without Chuck [Veatch], he made this happen.”

After surviving a contentious 2001 RA referendum debate, the eco-friendly building will be constructed at the existing 72-acre Walker Nature Education Center site that bisects Glade Drive in South Reston. The push to build the new center, according to Shaw, began about five years ago and represents the last piece of the overall education center development plan.

After so many years of waiting, Simon says he looks forward to the groundbreaking. “This will undoubtedly strengthen the educational value of the nature center,” he said. “No self-respecting nature park around the country is without a nature house.”

“What a Christmas gift,” said Elfriede Walker, the widow of Vernon J. Walker, Reston’s first open space director and the namesake for the current center. “This has been so long in planning. I am gratified that we are finally nearing our goal. It hasn’t always been easy.”

Once built, RA will assume all operation and maintenance expenses for the new center. Shaw said she hopes to break ground this spring on the new 3,500-square-foot facility that will include a multipurpose room, exhibit area and library. Veatch confirmed that groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for March, noting that all $750,000 does not have to be in hand to begin construction.

“It will happen in March, nevertheless and notwithstanding,” Simon added.

In the meantime, Shaw says she expects RA staff, the architect and construction team to submit a site plan and construction documents for the Nature House to Fairfax County sometime in January. The Design Review Board will take up the project during the Jan. 20 panel meeting, she said. The new state-of-the-art facility will be a model of sustainable architectural practices, according to RA officials, complete with solar thermal roofing tiles, a ground source heat pump system, radiant flooring, as well as recycled, renewable and non-toxic building materials.

“It’s important that communities focus on how the built environment can coexist with the natural environment,” said Shaw.

A FORMER PRESIDENT of the old Reston Land Corporation, Jim Todd of McLean, helped secure the landmark donation. A real estate developer for nearly 30 years, Todd served as president of three companies: Gulf Reston, Mobil Land Development Corp. and he currently heads The Peterson Companies, one of the largest privately owned development companies in the Washington area. Backed by Gulf and Mobil, Todd played a major role in the early development of Reston. In the early 1980s, Todd served as president of Reston Land at the time RA was deeded the nature center parcel from the then-developer of Reston. “Being involved in the success of the Nature House is very rewarding, having been involved in Reston in its early days, when we originally set aside the nature center parcel for the Reston Association,” Todd said.

Volloy said Todd’s personal history with Reston helped secure the donation. “He was aware the major initiatives we are trying to do here and his familiarity with the community played a role in his willingness to step forward,” Volloy said.