About the Project

Planning for a New Interpretive Center

The Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park (FRIENDS), Devil’s Lake State Park Concessions Corporation (DLCC) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) have embarked on a plan to design and build a new interpretive education center.  The project was originally identified in the Devil’s Lake State Park Master Plan completed in 1982 by WDNR.  Since then, the project has had many starts and stops.  In 2004, WDNR and the National Park Service-Ice Age Trail Unit, identified 5 potential project sites with a strong focus on Ice Age interpretation and connection to the Ice Age Trail.  More recently, the project idea became a focal point with FRIENDS and DLCC partnering with WDNR Bureau of Parks staff to develop a Request for Qualifications for a design team to generate a concept for a state-of-the-art interpretive education center facility at Devil’s Lake State Park, expanding the facility program possibilities significantly from earlier planning efforts. GWWO, along with their design team partners, entered into a contract with FRIENDS in October of 2018 to facilitate site selection, programming, concept design and programming for the proposed facility.


The proposed center will serve as an interpretive and outdoor recreation educational resource within Devil’s Lake State Park and will provide a virtual gateway to the entire Wisconsin State Park System and Baraboo Hills region.  The center will convey interpretive and recreational opportunities within the local community, region, and around Wisconsin; expanding the interpretive and education program beyond the park boundaries.  It is anticipated that the new center may include, but not be limited to, the following items; interpretive exhibits, educational spaces, outdoor recreation exhibits, administration space for park staff, a café, gift shop, outdoor classrooms, nature play and outdoor interpretation space.

Photograph by Bethany Prochnow

Anticipated Design Process

GWWO and their design team were selected to provide concept-level architectural and site design and programming for a multi-use educational/interpretive and outdoor recreation center, located at Devil’s Lake State Park, S5975 Park Rd, Baraboo, WI 53913.

The anticipated scope of the project includes analysis and recommendations for siting the facility, focused on a few primary locations within the park; meeting with an affiliate team consisting of representatives from  FRIENDS, DLCC and WDNR to develop the facility program; refining the facility program and developing facility space allocations; generating schematic architectural and site design plans and cost opinions; and evaluating utilities and probable infrastructure costs corresponding to the design options.

Property Information

Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin, was established in 1911. The park is the largest state park in Wisconsin at 9,217 acres.  Devil’s Lake State Park attracted approximately 3 million visitors during recent years, on par with the top ten visitation numbers for National Parks such as Grand Teton National Park and Glacier National Park.  The park is located about 3 hours driving distance from Chicago, 3 ½ hours from Minneapolis, 2 hours from Milwaukee and 30 minutes from Madison.

The geology of Devil’s Lake is of national significance.  It is located in the Baraboo Hills, a National Natural Landmark, an ancient mountain range containing rocks formed up to 1.5 billion years ago.  The contrasting geology of the park is one of its major attractions, 500-foot quartzite bluffs surround a glacier-formed lake, 1-mile-long and ½ mile wide, with a sand bottom.

 The park is one of nine units of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve in Wisconsin and hosts almost 15 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which follows the edge of the most recent glacier across Wisconsin.

Nearly 100 species of birds and 880 plant species call Devil’s Lake home.  The park contains four state natural areas including Wisconsin’s oldest, Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area.  State natural areas protect and conserve unique and fragile ecosystems and habitat, as well as exceptional geologic features.  The park offers a variety of year-round recreation opportunities.  Visitors can enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter; hiking, climbing and biking in the spring; camping, kayaking and scuba diving in the summer; and color watching and birding in the fall. 

Photograph by Maria Emmerich

General Information

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) owns the land and all structures within the State Park Boundaries. Throughout the construction project the Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park (FRIENDS) will own and insure the structure and upon its completion, the building will be gifted to WDNR for final ownership and management.

Photograph by Patty Van Stone

Elements of the Project

The Project Affiliate Team seeks to include the following proposed elements within the new multi-use interpretive education and outdoor recreation center.


Create a state-of-the-art educational facility that is designed to be relevant and adaptable to meet the needs of current and future visitors of all ages and abilities.

  • Provide a facility that serves as a destination for visitors year-round.
  • Provide a facility that offers a broad spectrum of functions and dynamic exhibits and spaces to enhance the experience of park visitors.
  • Provide a virtual gateway to local, regional, state and nationally significant recreational, natural and cultural resources.
  • Incorporate cutting edge technology and resources.
  • Provide an interpretive and educational destination for park visitors and students.
  • Capitalize on local, regional, statewide, national, and international partnerships.

Meet special requirements of property

  • Provide space for a restaurant/coffee shop within the facility.
  • Provide space for a gift shop within the facility.
  • Provide space for sales and rental of outdoor recreation. equipment.
  • Provide space for community gathering.

Minimize environmental impacts during the construction and operation of the facility.

  • Provide an environmentally sustainable facility meeting high level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
  • Minimize the development footprint, reducing site disturbance and the impact on natural resources to the greatest extent possible.
  • Incorporate local and sustainable materials where possible.
  • Minimize site disturbance for access and utilities.

Minimize overall costs for site and facility construction.

  • Minimize utility construction and extensions.
  • Minimize the area of impervious surface materials.
  • Provide space for adequate functions of the facility.

Meet functional and operational needs of the property and programs.

  • Provide space that meets the basic needs of visitors: active and passive information, restrooms etc.
  • Provide efficient administration space including offices, storage and program preparation space.
  • Provide a spectrum of educational and interpretive display areas, incorporating current functions of the Nature Center and new state of the art multi-media displays.

Maintain scenic and visual quality of the property, reflecting those qualities in the design.

  • Provide a connection to the lake and natural resources.
  • Respect scenic views from the lake, bluffs and trails.
  • Facility design should blend with, and complement, the natural landscape.
  • Use natural, local and sustainable resources in the construction of the facility.
  • Provide exterior gathering space opportunities for interaction with the natural landscape.

Improve pedestrian and vehicular circulation and facility access in a safe and efficient way.

  • Maintain links between camping and day use areas.
  • Provide access for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Minimize the footprint of additional parking required to meet the needs of the facility.
  • Provide clear and concise identity and directional signage for the facility and circulation.

Minimize overall operation and maintenance costs of the facility.

  • Recommend quality materials and systems with a proven history of performance.
  • Advise on the recommended lifecycle costs for future maintenance, replacement and repair costs.
  • Advise on the recommended level of additional staffing to meet educational and operational needs based on space allocation and programming.
  • Incorporate alternative energy sources where feasible.
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