Beloved St. Croix Valley nature center to close after more than 50 years

Warner Nature Center near Marine on St. Croix will close its doors at the end of 2019 after five decades of environmental education.




4 minute read

Warner Nature Center’s visitor center.

The Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center in May Township, Minn. will close at the end of 2019 after its primary funder cancelled its partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Warner hosts programs for schools nearly every day of the school year, in addition to preschool classes, summer camps, and public programs throughout the year. It was one of the first such nature centers in Minnesota, if not the country, when it opened in 1967.

Warner welcome about 17,000 people, mostly school children, each year. Volunteer trail guides, bird banders and others support the education program.

The foundation that owns the property has not yet said what it plans to do with the site.

As reported on St. Croix 360 in January, many of the volunteers have been working at Warner for decades, with some of the individuals still active who started volunteering there when it opened.

“Never stop learning, I say that to the kids,” 50-year volunteer Barb Wojahn said. “I tell them we have to learn new things all the time. That’s what keeps our brains going. It helps keep us young.”

Longtime Warner Nature Center volunteer Missy Patty puts a band on a chickadee while school children watch and ask questions.

Thanks to volunteers and donors, it’s been possible to offer school programming for free over the years, with many disadvantaged youth from around the Twin Cities visiting, sometimes experiencing a forest or prairie for the first time at the center.

Rich resources

Warner is home to a wide variety of natural features and programs that share it with the public. Staff and volunteers seek to instill a love and appreciation of nature to all who visit. The center’s 11 employees learned yesterday about the closure.

The center’s long-running bird banding program has captured, tagged, and released more than 45,000 birds over the years, providing valuable data for scientists and conservation.

Warner also includes a unique bog, one of the farthest south such wetlands of its type. It is home to plants and other wildlife not found anywhere else nearby.

Bernie’s Bog is named after Warner’s founding director Bernie Fashingbauer. It features a boardwalk, replaced last year, that allows visitors to experience the unique feature up-close.

Thirteen captive animals used for education also call the center home, including hawks, owls, snakes, and turtles. All animals will be transferred to other nature centers.

Scientists have also used the center’s lands for a variety of research projects, including extensive dragonfly studies and surveys, prairie restoration, and invasive buckthorn management.

A library at the nature center is full of nature books, as well as providing a meeting space for small groups. The room features a table made from a single slice of a giant Douglas fir tree, which was 680 years old when it was harvested in Washington, the hundreds of rings still visible.

The Douglas Fir table.

More than 4,000 natural specimens have also been added to the nature center’s collections over the years, including birds, mammals, plants, rocks, fossils, fungi, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

For more than 30 years, the center has also hosted the St. Croix River Research Rendezvous each fall.

The annual event offers opportunities for scientists to share projects and findings on a variety of subjects, as well as giving high school and college students a chance to present projects they have worked on, and learn more about careers in conservation and environmental science.

A young scientist shares her work with Rendezvous attendees at Warner Nature Center.

‘Exploring options’

No reason was given for the Manitou Fund to withdraw its support. The family foundation has had a partnership agreement with the Science Museum of Minnesota for many years, with the museum managing operations and staffing. This year, Manitou chose not to renew the agreement.

“It has been Manitou Fund’s honor to support Warner Nature Center over the years,” the organization said in a statement. “Manitou Fund is exploring options for how best to use the land and facilities going forward and for future generations. Any plan will continue Manitou Fund’s 50-plus years tradition of using this cherished space to positively impact the community.”

Manitou Fund owns the approximately 800 acres that comprise Warner. It has also long funded operations with additional support from other donors, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and volunteers.

The Science Museum urged people who love Warner to carry its legacy forward.

“Our wish is that all visitors, past and present, will incorporate the center’s mission into their own lives — build a personal relationship with nature and inspire others to find meaningful connections to the beauty and wonder of the natural world,” said Joanne Jones-Rizzi, vice president of Science, Equity, and Education.


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8 responses to “Beloved St. Croix Valley nature center to close after more than 50 years”

  1. markbrigham Avatar

    This is sad news. The Manitou Fund is to be commended for 50+ years of supporting a worthwhile property, facility, and program. But time does march on and organizational priorities change.

    I was involved in forming a new board 30 years ago, when a national environmental organization pulled its support from a wonderful nature sanctuary & environmental education facility. Those who are saddened by Warner’s closure: know that you can take matters into your own hands and successfully re-open and operate it, provided the current owner is willing to give you some time to get things going. You’ll need a strong, talented, and tenacious board that gets things done; many individual donors (unless / until a very large donor comes forth); many volunteers; hard work; and luck. You’ll need to get financially solvent enough to hire a director, and then hopefully other staff. It might not be possible to keep everyone currently there, at their current pay scales, until you grow your organization, and that will take time. It certainly isn’t easy, but it can be done if Warner has enough passionate supporters who are willing to give their time, talents, and money to the cause.

    We need places like this, to help inspire and connect folks–particularly young folks–to nature, in an increasingly “Nature Deficit Disorder” world. (borrowing the phrase from Richard Louv). Good luck to the passionate Warner supporters; I hope they take up the cause and succeed!

    1. Lisa H Avatar
      Lisa H

      Who is the person to connect with or contact regarding the future use of this land? I am passionate about bringing children and nature together to facilitate learning. Is there a name and contact number? Thanks! Lisa

  2. Nancy (Fashingbauer) Schmidt Avatar
    Nancy (Fashingbauer) Schmidt

    I am so sad to see this wonderful wildlife educational center close. My father, Bernie Fashingbauer, was the first director. Our family spent many hours at the center. We canoed, snowshoed, helped band birds, marveled over the “snake pit”, and learned to truly appreciate nature and all it had to offer. My father’s passion was to make sure everyone had an opportunity to see and experience nature.

    1. Marby Rufsvold Avatar
      Marby Rufsvold

      Nancy, I knew your Dad – and was a Volunteer Trailguide under his Direction—as were a great league of others—before his retirement. Bernie’s passion for engaging children and adults in learning about and establishing relationship with Nature, and his vision of the necessity of its preservation will not be forgotten.

  3. mark s nupen Avatar
    mark s nupen

    Is this change related to changes in tax laws on donations?

  4. […] Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center announced they will close at the end of the year after 50 years of service. This is due to a decision by the financier and owner of the property, the Manitou Fund, not to […]

  5. Robert Schwendeman Avatar
    Robert Schwendeman

    As a Twin Cities native I’m so disappointed in the bad news that Warner Nature Center is to close. Thousands upon thousands of children and families have enjoyed the center while being educated. The fact that is has been so well known in the greater Twin Cities area and beyond makes the closing incomprehensible. I understand that it’s a private reserve yet can’t help but feel that after so many years of public life it can and should be responsive to the public’s opinion. It seems that the public was not consulted in any way.

    Who exactly made the decision to close the Center? Why was this decision made? How can this decision be reversed for the good of all Minnesotans and our guests?

    Why is the published news so incomplete? I strongly suggest a new review of the short sighted decision to close the Warner Nature Center.

    Robert Schwendeman

  6. Steve Doyle Avatar
    Steve Doyle

    I am not hopeful. Those 800 acres owned by Manitou fund are worth $30 million dollars. The Fund in its press releases says it is “exploring options for how best to preserve and use the land and facilities going forward”. That could portend a sell-out to developers that would “positively impact the community” (another press release) by increasing the property tax base and ‘preserving’ scraps of nature on half-acre McMansion lots. Even though the people and resident creatures want the Center’s land saved, who ultimately gets the last word? Democra$y.


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Beloved St. Croix Valley nature center to close after more than 50 years