Groups See Center As Important Tool For Community

The Mahaska County Conservation Board along with Friends of Mahaska County Conservation held and informational meeting Monday night to discuss the upcoming Environmental Learning Center.

The Mahaska County Conservation Board along with Friends of Mahaska County Conservation held and informational meeting Monday night to discuss the upcoming Environmental Learning Center.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – Residents of Mahaska County found their way to the Iowa State University Extension Office to learn more about the Environmental Learning Center that is planned for Caldwell Park on the east side of Oskaloosa.

Jennifer Peterson, President of Friends of Mahaska County Conservation, spoke about the environmental learning center and about the non-profit group Friends of Mahaska County Conservation.

Fundraising for the center is a focus of the group right now, and they welcome those interested in helping with the project to join them. “We do need more help,” said Peterson.

Finding help is done by raising awareness. They have been holding movies on the barn at Caldwell, and other socials like ‘Business After Hours’ in September. Monday’s event is part of that plan of keeping people informed. Monday night’s public meeting was another portion of keeping people informed about the project, and to help people find ways they can be involved.

One of the goals of Friends of Mahaska County Conservation is to create an appreciation of the natural ecosystems in the Mahaska Community and promote conservation of natural resources through education.

The education portion of the learning center is one of the main goals shared by all those involved in the process.

The goal is to start breaking ground in the summer 2015 for the learning center. In order to do that, the group needs to raise half of the money needed to complete the project, or 1.5 million dollars of the projected 3 million dollar cost. “Right now, we’re no where near that,” says Peterson.

Caldwell Park is located on the east side of Oskaloosa, and will enable the environmental learning center to be connected to the recreation trail system. The Mahaska Mammoth bones will also call the center home, and could potentially help boost that destination aspect for the project.

Housing the mammoth bones wasn’t the original purpose of the building. The environmental learning center had been in discussion before acquisition of the bones happened. What had been planned all along was an Iowa Conservation Hall of Fame.

A conceptual drawing of the proposed Environmental Learning Center planned for Caldwell Park.

A conceptual drawing of the proposed Environmental Learning Center planned for Caldwell Park.

Conservation has some deep roots in Oskaloosa, when native son and Congressman John Lacy proposed the Lacey Act of 1900. The law is still the primary tool used by the federal government to protect plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for violators.

“Think of the opportunities for kids,” says Peterson.

Mahaska County Conservation Naturalist Laura DeCook explained, “We’ve outgrown that [Russell Wildlife] through our programs.”

For DeCook, many of the immediate learning programs would be moved to the new location. “We’ll still use Russell Wildlife Area for youth outdoor field days and field trips. It’s a gem of a park so we’re not going to forget about it.”

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