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DNR to take over Mackenzie Environmental Education Center

Published On: Dec 24 2013 04:44:13 AM CST   Updated On: Sep 06 2013 07:17:32 AM CDT

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources has big plans in store for the popular Mackenzie Environmental Education Center.

The DNR is going at it alone after it announced Thursday it cut ties with its longtime partner, Wisconsin’s Wildlife Federation.

The nonprofit helped manage the center since 2006, when it nearly closed. Now, the center serves some 16,000 students yearly. But its environmental education programs were threatened again last year due to cost concerns. The DNR asked for help, but only the WWF submitted a proposal of ideas to keep Mackenzie open and growing.

“What we want to try and do is expand what we offer at Mackenzie and considering the Wildlife Federation can’t provide that, it’s time the department takes over and fulfill the vision,” said the DNR’s Land Division Administrator Kurt Thiede.

The DNR said WWF’s proposal didn’t fulfill its new vision for Mackenzie that includes outdoor skills and hunter mentor training. The WWF argued the changes are too expensive for anyone to implement.

“We had to be realistic and not promise more than what could be done for the amount of money, so that’s why they didn’t receive any bids besides our bid,” said WWF Executive Director George Meyer.

The WWF said the DNR’s new vision could cost upwards of a $1 million, far from the $240,000 it costs to run the center now. The high price tag is worrisome, given the center’s financial problems last spring nearly cost it its educational programs.

“I think the thing we need to focus on is setting a budget that’s realistic to try and achieve those goals and we’re going to have to take a look at the funding that’s available and we may have to reapportion funding to make sure we can afford it,” said Thiede.

The DNR hasn’t identified any other funding sources, but said it’s committed to keeping Mackenzie open. Thiede hopes the DNR can even hire the WWF’s seven full-time employees that work at the center.

Meyer is hopeful the DNR wouldn’t abandon the center, but said there could be a substantial reduction in programs there.

“I believe they have to find funds some place at least to carry on the portion of the program that’s been put on by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation,” said Meyer.

The DNR said it will be in contact with Wisconsin schools to schedule programs at the Center for 2014, after its contract with WWF ends. It also said the popular maple syrup and learn-to-hunt events, along with the wildlife exhibit, won’t be affected by the split.

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