Nature Center friends looking for answers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2000

It’s a place where folks can walk during the summer and cross-country ski in the winter; where someone might see a Scarlet Tanager in the spring or tag a Monarch in early summer.

Saturday, August 05, 2000

It’s a place where folks can walk during the summer and cross-country ski in the winter; where someone might see a Scarlet Tanager in the spring or tag a Monarch in early summer. It’s a place where a person can stumble upon grazing deer or wild turkeys, and where one will surely find trees and wildflowers galore. It’s somewhere to go to take classes, attend lectures or even visit with some slithering snakes.

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What the Friends of the Nature Center want to know, is do the residents of Austin and Mower County want more?

In order to find out what members and other area residents would like to see at the nature center, the board developed a nine-question survey. While copies of the survey will be mailed to the Friends’ membership later this week, the group is hoping to get input from as many people as possible. "We want to develop our long-range goals for the actual nature center and the programming here," Friends President Merlene Stiles said. "But we want input from everyone."

It may be only nine questions, but the survey covers a range of topics and also gives the taker a good idea of what sort of things already happen at the nature center. In addition to being a place for activities like walking, bird watching and cross country skiing, it is also an education center and a theater, both inside and out.

People can clip out and mail in the survey in today’s newspaper, or copies of the survey are also available in the Interpretive Building at the Nature Center.

Stiles and fellow board members Dick Dixon and Dick Smaby believe the survey will be an important tool for the Friends. Former Friends president Smaby also admitted that all the hullabaloo about the possible residential development to the west of the nature center did precipitate things, but long-range goals were on the Friend’s agenda long before that.

"We had started talking about long-range plans and then the Nature Center Taskforce was formed," Smaby explained. "The task force was supposed to answer a lot of the questions we had, but it just sort of stopped." The task force, which was comprised of close to a dozen people appointed by Mayor Bonnie Rietz and Park and Rec director Denny Maschka, did come up with more than just its well-publicized judgment that a residential development to the west wouldn’t necessarily hurt the nature center if there was adequate screening.

It was their consensus that the nature center should expand, but to the north, not across the road to the west. They also concluded that the idea of a natural corridor between the nature center and Todd Park was a good idea.

"We’re thinking that we should know if we want to acquire land and what for, and be able to tell people that we are aiming for certain goals," Stiles said. "Then if someone should give us a big donation, or a grant opportunity would arise, or whatever, we would be ready and know what to do." The group, whose mission is "to enhance and encourage environmental education, scientific opportunities and the enjoyment of nature at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, are also hoping the survey and resulting publicity will encourage more people to get involved at the nature center and with the Friends group. A membership ($10 for single, $20 for family) gets its owner a subscription to the Nature Center News, a biannual publication, free admission to Pioneer Day, an invitation to the Friends annual meeting in January along with special programming, and an opportunity to support and promote environmental education.

Last year the Friends donated more than $20,000 through the nature center.