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MacKenzie environmental education program could be cut

Published On: Feb 13 2013 06:55:29 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 21 2013 01:19:19 PM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' decision to restructure funding could put the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center's school programs on hold.

The Poynette facility plays host to thousands of students every year.

DNR officials acknowledge the value of MacKenzie's school-based environmental education, but the state is questioning whether the current curriculum can survive without addressing cost concerns.

MacKenzie Environmental Education Center said it welcomes 16,000 school children every year, including fourth-graders from the Kettle Moraine School District.

"For many of the kids, and many of my former students, this was the highlight of their school life K-12, coming here to MacKenzie," said Kettle Moraine teacher John Hallagan.

But future school visits could be in jeopardy as Wisconsin's DNR now looks to turn MacKenzie into an outdoor-skills center for the recruitment and retention of hunters, anglers and trappers.

"Will there be an interruption in service perhaps this fall as the new process gets under way? Potentially, yes," said Kurt Thiede, DNR lands division administrator. "But I think in the long term, what that will look like is ultimately up to those individuals who are responding to our request for proposal."

The DNR said MacKenzie's operational costs are too high to continue as is, and the state is now looking for private vendors to fully fund and run the facility.

"With the price tag currently, $280,000 is what we paid this past fiscal year," Thiede said. "What we're looking to do is a vendor contract."

The shift is now prompting staff at MacKenzie to reach out to the public with the hope of keeping MacKenzie's natural classroom just the way it is.

"They're proposing major changes on this facility without public input, without input from our current user groups, and without input from the other partners that were involved in this operation," said MacKenzie Center Director Ruth Ann Lee.

"I would like Wisconsin to think about the kids and what an impact it is on their education," Hallagan said.

Currently, the MacKenzie Center is run by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in partnership with the DNR. The current agreement with the WWF ends later this summer.

The DNR says its request for proposal will be available for public review this spring. The agency hopes to select a successful bidder by the fall.

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