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    A New Landscape Remains True to Its 1960s Roots


    A New Landscape Remains True to Its 1960s Roots


    January 19, 2012, DUNDEE, IL—New landscape upgrades at the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation’s headquarters are overwintering after their first full season of growth, blooming and welcoming the Foundation’s guests. But visitors were unlikely to realize that the updated entrance, outdoor seating areas and plantings are new, as the Van Zelst, Inc. landscape architecture team was careful to remain true to the original 1960s-era vision.

    A hidden gem just 40 miles northwest of Chicago, the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation has made its breathtaking 1,200-acre retreat available to students, researchers and licensees (as members are known) since 1962. The ample woodlands, lowlands and farmland are home to over 250 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and many more fish, amphibians, reptiles and butterflies.

    When it was time to upgrade the landscape, in concert with a renovation of the Pond Cottage which houses meeting rooms, concessions and visitor services, landscape architect David Van Zelst stepped up. Van Zelst, who is a Foundation licensee, was enthusiastic about the opportunity. “It’s as if you’ve stepped into the North Woods,” he explained. “We wanted to maintain that intimate feel, even as we enhanced and added to the core spaces.”

    Even though the wildlife areas were all manmade on land that had previously been used for dairy farms, the work had been environmentally sensitive. So it was important that the existing trout stream and surrounding areas be carefully preserved and thoughtfully enhanced in a way that remained consistent with its founder’s vision.

    The Van Zelst team rose to the challenge, creating gathering areas for groups of various sizes, using hardscape materials that would have been available when the space was created 50 years ago. The result is a welcoming patio that draws people out of the main building to the bubbling trout stream and pathways that meander to a recreational lawn, natural playground and more. A mix of materials—from bluestone slabs and gravel to Lannon stone steps and structures—keeps even the most sophisticated areas from feeling too formal.

    In addition, the team upgraded the main entrance to the grounds, developed a new parking area that can be converted to an outdoor event space, and added expansive plantings of native grasses and wildflowers. “We wanted to honor McGraw’s initial vision and natural approach,” adds Van Zelst, “And from the moment you turn off the road, everything has a very comfortable, inviting feel.”

    The natural atmosphere of the finished space belies the hard work that went into the project. Conceptual drawings were completed in late 2009, and the upgrades were executed between April and November the following year. Summer 2011 saw the results in their full glory, and the plantings will only become more spectacular as they mature.

    About Van Zelst, Inc.

    For more than 30 years, Van Zelst has created stunning landscapes for homeowners and commercial properties. From landscape design, planting and construction through comprehensive maintenance programs, Wadsworth-based Van Zelst offers complete landscaping services and unsurpassed quality throughout northern Illinois, the greater Chicago area and southeast Wisconsin.

    About the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation

    Founded in 1962, the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of the earth and its wildlife heritage. Situated on more than 1,200 acres in The Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation actively creates educational, management, research and communications programs to enhance the conservation of fish, game, wildlife and their habitats.

    About Max McGraw

    While few may be familiar with the soft-spoken founder’s name, most of us have been touched by Max McGraw’s vision to have a pop-up toaster in every kitchen, as well as the many brands his businesses brought to market. Born in Iowa, McGraw spent much of his 81 years acquiring businesses throughout the Midwest. His holdings were concentrated under two umbrellas, the McGraw-Edison Company, a supplier of electrical and mechanical products with sales over $1 billion annually until it was acquired by Cooper Industries, and Centel Corporation, an electricity and telecommunications enterprise which later became a part of Sprint.

    Throughout his life, McGraw was an avid sportsman and conservationist. The Foundation bridges these interests, providing areas for hunting and fishing, wildlife and fisheries research, a 20-acre pheasant and partridge game farm, and extensive national education programs for the next generation of conservationist leaders.

    For more information, please call 847.623.3850 or visit


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