Carpenter Nature Center breaks ground on new Wisconsin campus

Earth Day event celebrates future environmental education in the St. Croix Valley.




4 minute read

There were dignitaries, donors, and a barred owl on hand for a small Earth Day event on the river bluffs south of Hudson yesterday. Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center was celebrating the beginning of work on a new facility that will open up hundreds of acres of natural lands to students and the public.

The ceremony was a major milestone in an effort that started more than 30 years ago, when Al and Laurie Hein donated land and money to Carpenter in the town of Troy. In the intervening years, more land was added to the preserved property, and funds were raised to protect it. But Carpenter has a long tradition of environmental education at its Minnesota campus, and wanted to bring the full experience to Wisconsin.

Now, the nature center’s lands, facilities, and education efforts will span both sides of the lower river.

The new building nestled in a wooded hillside is scheduled to open next spring. Its design was developed with input from the community, and it’s intended to be modest and low-impact, with several environment-friendly aspects. The 5,000-square foot facility will provide a classroom, gathering area, educational displays, and restrooms. And it will offer access to 300 acres of prairies, where imperiled Henslow’s sparrows, which require specific types of prairie to survive, are known to nest, alongside many other creatures.

Illustration of planned nature center facility. (Courtesy Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center)

Carpenter has so far raised $3.2 million to support the project, almost the goal of $3.5 million. Along with gratitude for all the support, several speakers urged people to “be the hero that gets us to zero” dollars remaining toward the goal.

Over the years, the Hein Family Trust, under the guidance of the Greenwald family, has provided additional funds to acquire neighboring properties. Other significant supporters of the effort were John and Ruth Huss, who owned and managed First National Bank in Hudson for 30 years.

During the presentation, I heard my first song sparrow of the year. A bald eagle and great blue heron also crossed above the site during the ceremony. Carpenter’s director, Jen Vieth, a passionate birder, looked up while speaking to watch a raptor fly over. She said the new facility will be much more than four walls and a roof.

“It’s not just a building, but a gateway to the St. Croix Valley,” she said.

Another speaker was Jack Greenwald, whose father helped facilitate the Hein donation of the land, and later oversaw the Hein Trust, and who himself oversaw additional financial support for the project, was at the ceremony after moving back to Wisconsin on Sunday from 35 years living in Dubai. He’ll be a neighbor of the site now. Greenwald acknowledged the effort had been long, but the best part was just beginning.

“All the words we speak here today will soon drift away like leaves in the wind, but what we do will last beyond our days,” he said.

Disclosure: I was pleased to support the effort by working with my wife, Kate, and Carpenter to develop informational materials about the property and project in 2019.


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Carpenter Nature Center breaks ground on new Wisconsin campus