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October 17, 2019

10/3/2019 4:07:00 PM
Final days of nature center

Warner Nature Center is going away.  And, if there are future plans for the environmental learning facility and its  woodlands they haven’t been declared.

An ideal time to visit at Warner would be this Sunday, October 6, one of the public’s final opportunities to see and feel what Warner Nature Center has stood for to many thousands of supporters. Sunday activities include bird banding as well as the chance to be immersed in some of the most glorious autumn colorscapes around.

A: Chisago County Press columnist and book author that longtime  readers will remember, Tom Anderson, was the second director for Warner Nature Center, from 1991 to 2007.

Warner Nature Center expanded under his leadership as a greenway corridor was set up working with the nearby science museum research station and others who owned land between Warner Nature Center and the St. Croix River.  

The following are some thoughts Anderson shared reacting to the news Warner Nature Center was closing:

Q: First of all,  I know nothing about Lee and Rose Warner.  Who were Lee and Rose Warner?  Did you have a chance to discuss their vision with them in the early days-- or hear firsthand what they wanted the nature center to be known for?

A. This might be far more than you need but since you asked here it goes. The primary benefactor to the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center was the family of Donald McNeely. Lee and Rose Warner were the uncle and aunt of Donald McNeely (Don's mother Adelaide, was sister to Rose). In memory of Lee and Rose Warner Donald McNeely set up the  Warner Foundation to fund the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center around 1966. (Rose Warner loved the natural world and was a keen gardener and played an active role in the Minneapolis Garden Club.)

The Warner Nature Center, partnered with the Science Museum is the oldest non-profit nature center in Minnesota.  Through 52 years the McNeely's generosity has made it possible for tens of thousands of school students to partake in the nature center program free of charge.

Note: Donald McNeely was a very successful entrepreneur. He turned his father's business, The St. Paul Terminal Warehouse Company, into a national company called Space Center, Inc He was also co-founder of Control Data Corporation.

Q: Going back decades in the area of environmental education,  there were not a lot of  "naturalists" and the state and federal  park rangers were doing the bulk of public educating.  Specifically teaching and oversight of environmental learning at the grassroots level,  involving  the general public,  was a relatively new profession around the 60's and 1970s .  Was leading the nature center always a goal for you career wise-- or did you just happen to be in the right place at the right time?

You are right. The late 60s and especially the 70s (after Sen. (Wis.) Gaylord Nelson kicked off the first official Earth Day) was the period that formal environmental education really took off. I had never really heard of a career in that field. I graduated with a Wildlife Biology degree from the U of MN in 1974. I had an opportunity to join a college friend on a visit to Warner Nature Center, where my friend, a science education major, interviewed Bernie Fashingbauer, the first director of Warner Nature Center. I was mesmerized by the place and their mission.

After graduating, I had some time between some seasonal jobs to volunteer at Warner Nature Center. When a naturalist job opened up at Warner, I applied and got it. I am convinced I got the job because of my volunteering there. I served as a Naturalist for 14 years prior to becoming the Director for another 16 years. For the last five years I have returned to volunteering there.  

Q: Is there one advancement in scientific  knowledge or something you learned about the great outdoors, during your time at Warner Nature Center,  that came as a complete surprise to you --that stands out?

Two things stand out: First the complete realization that there is likely no more important work in the world than getting kids outdoors to fall in love with the natural world. ALL other jobs and economies absolutely depend on the integrity of healthy natural systems. And these systems provide their services at NO COST to us.

Secondly, in recent years it has been documented that exposing kids as young as 3 to 5 years old to natural areas in the outdoors results in healthier children and plays a major role in developing innovation, creativity, cooperation and better health.

Get outside!

See for yourself
Warner Nature Center is outside of Marine on St Croix. Keep south on Highway 95, and shortly you will  turn west onto Norell Avenue, the center address is 15375 Norell. Sunday,  October 6 the day starts at 1 p.m. and runs to 5 p.m.  Admission is no charge, but a suggested donation is $10 per vehicle.


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