Community Nature Program
COMMUNITY NATURE PROGRAM SOARS
According to Neal Olson and Art Pagel, two retired Wautoma school teachers, an emphasis and appreciation of nature in central Wisconsin was long overdue. Forever known as the "Near North", they feel Waushara County citizens sometimes take for granted the resources, beauty, and magnificence of Waushara County's natural bounties and wonders, and sometimes forget that these treasures are not endless. With education philosophies centered upon community service, intergenerational teaching, combining intergovernmental financing and resources, plus volunteerisn, the two embarked upon a two-phased plaln that has, over a seven year span, changed to three phases and is soraing with new ideas, involvement and financing.
"Never in our wildest dreams did Art and I envision that students building a downtown wetlands park and student laboratory would turn into a community nature program covering paid naturalists, nature tours, lyceums, book donations, public library displays, or an adult education lecture series. It's mind-boggling and a tribute to the people in our area", said Olson.
Pagel, the biologist/environmentalist, spear-headed the school's involvement in Phase One of the project through his biology classes, environmental education classes, and summer school. Olson arranged private and corporate financing, governmental financing, volunteerism and other financing. A dream for a downtown wetlands park evolved. The students and citizens began work in 1999 , which was Phase One.
PHASE ONE: PARK CONSTRUCTION
"We had hundreds of hours of planning, building, and grunt work out of our students over two years", said Pagel. There was grant money and the construction crews of the Department of Natural Resources in action. We had the city and county personnel aiding and constructing bridges and viewing decks. We acquired private estate funds, businesses donated times, expertise, and money. We even had the Waushara County Justice System permitting both adult and juvenile offenders to complete community service requirements by working with the project. It's amazing, in hind sight, what was accomplished through community teamwork and cooperation.
In 2003, the Wautoma Wetlands Park evolved into the outdoor laboratory experience that was projected for the community and biology/environmental classes. Weland plants and grasses were identified and marked as were class experiences developed in the park for elementary science students, gifted and talented classes, enviromental education classes and the Crossroads Academy students. It was at this period of time that three estates/wills left money to be used in nature education through the Wetlands Park fund. The city appropriated funds for the nature education program through monies bequeathed to the park and recreation commission, with earmarks for conservation/recreational education. The Waushara County Board, through its Land Conservation Committee, got the nature project sanctioned by the Federal Golden Sands Resource Conservation Development Commission, a federal nine-county entity. The county board appropriated funds for the nature project and the Wautoma School District furnished "in-kind" s
"Suddenly, Wautoma and Waushara County had the funds, expertise, and teamwork to implement a comprehensive nature program for not only its students, but also in the areas of adult education and the community service organizations, and not requiring a cent of annual, newly budgeted monies! Seems amazing", Olson said.
Two part-time naturalists were hired, school and community nature projects began to abound in 2006. The basic activities of the program are the naturalists preparing, teaching, lecturing, providing special programs like field trips, demonstrations and lectures that teachers, librarians, and civic officers cannot professinally develop.
The specifics of the 2006-2007 nature program's school and community activities have been park maintenance by Industrial Tech, $500.00 nature books donation to school, Christmas nature party, birding project, Wetland Park seminar, nature Christmas tree project, nature placemat productions for restaurants, "Critter Man" and "Bugs in Our Lives" lyceums, field trip ro Oshkosh and Lake Winnebago, NOVA DVD donations to the Parkside Library, Nature photography exhibits at the Wautoma Public Library, Rotary and Kiwanis presentations, developing a community "nature" speaking service, "Drums in Nature" lyceum, "Life Cycles of Insects" school projects, and a three month adult education lecture series.
"Six additions and improvements are planned for the 2007-2008 Community Nature Program", said Art Pagel, lead naturalist in the program.
We're completing a state grant application to supplement the program's financing; expanding the Sand Prairie Adult Education Program and county tours, developing a core sponsorship committee, financing a two day nature study program for every third grader in the school district with ten trained naturalists, establishing a website, and channeling the high school's English, Art and Technology units invovling nature into the Sand Prairie Sketches' program and public libraries.
Attendance at the adult education series, entitled, "Sand Prairie Sketches" really caught on over the three month sequence in 2007, and rose dramatically from the initial presentation to its conclusion, with tremendous enthusiasm shown for the county tours to nature's "hot spots". People traveled from Milwaukee, Madison, Appleton, Montello, Hancock, Plainfield, Redgranite, Wild Rose, and Wautoma for the final "wildflower" presentation. Neal Olson, the project originator, stated, "We truly believe we have lightning by the tail for our schools and community. We believe, and now know, that intergovernmental services and cost-sharing can and should be a fact of like as all local budgets exist in austere times. We hope that all of Waushara County becomes involved in the program! Nature and the environment need Waushara County citizens being advocated for Wisconsin's "Near North"!.
COMMUNITY NATURE PROGRAM BEGINS WITH FALL PROGRAMS
The Community Nature Program, in conjunction with Wautoma Area Schools and the areas citizenry, has begun five major projects within the realms of nature education and appreciation:
Bonfire/Sponsorship PicnicOn September 18, at Camp Lucerne Nature Center, a sponsorship committee of 45 people assembled to enjoy and plan nature endeavors for our area, as well as idea exchanges for the future. Camp Lucerne hosted a terrific picnic meal, a bonfire and entertainment by Bill Kehl, featuring ?nature music and tones?. There also was a ?night hike?, along with nature photography displays by Kurt Skyba and Jean Sherman.
Wetland /Habitat ProjectOn September 20, Neal Olson, Dr. David Stelter, and Justice Jon Wilcox introduced an intergenerational wetlands project with Charles Cleerman?s 7th grade industrial technology class. Values in wetlands and waterfowl habitat were discussed, as well as plans for constructing wood duck houses. The students will build 40 wood duck houses and on October 19 will distribute and erect these houses throughout the Wautoma/Mt. Morris area. The Wautoma Rod and Gun Club, two biologists, and eight farmers and retirees will work collectively with the project, culminating in a pizza party at Christianos.
Third Grade Nature Seminars ? September 25-26 The Community Nature Program sponsored a two-day outdoor education program at Camp Lucerne Nature Center for all third grade students in the Wautoma Area School District. Under the tutelage of biologists Art Pagel and Laura Hutler, plus six trained naturalists, the students studied and enjoyed the wonders of the forest, prairie, wildlife, woodland birds, and fish facts.
Community Nature Program website developedThe Wautoma Area Schools in partnership with the Community Nature Program has developed this website. Look for history, past and future activities, as well as ads announcing projects and community field trips in nature.
Grant Applications Wautoma Area Schools, in collaboration with the Community Nature Program, is writing and attempting to procure funds from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB). If approved, the grant will supplement funds for intergenerational school projects, environmental education within the schools, civic projects, and an adult nature lecture series. Considerations for a partnership with the Wautoma Tree Board in developing a community ? Tree-Trail? will also be incorporated in the draft as well as a ?nature wall? in the Wautoma Public Library.
Check out this website regularly for updates as well as newspapers, posters, flyers, and radio/television. A winter lecture/travel series entitled ?Sand Prairie Sketches? is coming and will be expanded for the upcoming winter months. There is a lot going in Waushara County nature and even more to be learned and seen.