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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.