Warner Nature Center

After announcing that it will close at the end of the year, Warner Nature Center will honor its legacy of outdoor education at this year’s Fall Color Blast, Sunday, Oct. 6, 1 to 5 p.m. 


The Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center last week announced plans to close by the end of the year. The news came after the center’s chief funding agency, Manitou Fund, said it would not renew its longstanding partnership in 2020. In addition to funding operations at the center, Manitou Fund owns the land and buildings.

The Science Museum of Minnesota has worked with various philanthropic organizations to offer nature-oriented programs at the site since 1958 (see timeline in sidebar). The partnership between the Science Museum and Manitou Fund is set to expire December 31. 

In a statement, the Manitou fund did not explain its decision but said it hoped to continue to positively impact the community.

“It has been Manitou Fund’s honor to support Warner Nature Center over the years,” the statement read. “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.”

The organization expressed gratitude to visitors, volunteers and donors, adding, “A special place was created where meaningful connections with nature have taken place for over five decades.”

Alison Rempel Brown, president and CEO of the Science Museum, emphasized that the museum remains committed to connecting children to the natural world.

“While it is truly difficult to say goodbye,” she wrote, “both the Science Museum and the Manitou Fund are extremely grateful to every supporter who has dedicated his or her time and financial support over the years. Together we have shared the joy of environmental learning and of positively impacting thousands of children’s lives. This land holds a special place in the hearts of many including mine. Please be assured that the museum remains committed to providing science learning experiences that build lifelong connections to the natural world.”

New homes will be found for the center’s 13 educational animals.

The center will celebrate its legacy at the annual Fall Color Blast on Sunday, Oct. 6, 1 to 5 p.m. 

1957 — Amherst Wilder Foundation purchases two square miles of land from the May family, which becomes Camp Wilder. An agreement is made that the land never be divided and sold for development.

1958 — The Science Museum of Minnesota assists with summer programming at the site and the vision is established for a building to serve as a nature center for campers and students on school field trips.

1965 — The Science Museum of Minnesota is granted exclusive rights to 385 acres of Wilder’s original 1200-acre tract. The Wilder Foundation builds the original 10,000-square-foot Trailside Museum and the Science Museum provides staffing. Summer programming begins. 

1967 — School groups begin classes at the nature center.

1970 —The Lee and Rose Warner Foundation purchases the land and buildings and takes over the funding of the center. The foundation was established by Rose Warner in 1959 to support interests she shared with her husband Lee Warner. Name of the center changes from Wilder Nature Center to the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center. The Science Museum of Minnesota continues to manage the site and staff. 

1975 — Looking to expand the land base of the center, the Sundberg Farm property is acquired. Much of this land remained fallow farm fields until a prairie and oak savannah creation project began in 2005.

1993 — The nature center purchases the adjoining Happy Hills farm, expanding to around 800 acres. 

2000 — Warner and community partners create a greenway corridor between the nature center and the St. Croix River.

2010 — The Lee and Rose Warner Foundation merges into The Manitou Fund, which continues to provide funding.

2019 — Manitou Fund announces an end to the funding agreement.

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