I want to share concerns about the sudden and inexplicable closing of the Warner Nature Center at the end of this year that was recently announced by the Lee and Rose Warner Foundation that has funded WNC for its entire 52 year existence. As the retired Vice President for Education at the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), I helped develop and support programs partnering WNC and the SMM that created groundbreaking environmental education initiatives serving youth, families, and adults. The WNC’s focus has always been to work with local schools as well as those with diverse student populations from the Twin Cities. These school programs were free, and fully booked each year. 

Recently, the Lee and Rose Warner Family Foundation announced the closing of WNC and dissolved its 52 year partnership with SMM. By year’s end, all exhibits, collections, library materials, learning resources, operational equipment, and staff will be gone and the building vacated. All school group commitments will be severed, along with summer classes, camps, and preschool programs. Predictably, this decision has precipitated sadness, consternation, and bewilderment from those that ever worked, volunteered, or been associated with the WNC. 

I appreciate that organizational change happens, and that recent personnel changes in the Foundation and its corporate entity likely contributed significantly to this decision.  The Foundation’s Board has a right as funders to implement new plans and aspirations for WNC. However, don’t they also have an obligation to explain their intentions coherently with the community and especially to those dedicated staff and volunteers who have led WNC over the years? 

The Foundation has indicated vaguely that they intend to preserve the 900 acre WNC preserve   and to continue serving youth in some fashion. If so, I strongly urge them to describe their plans and how they will be accomplished without a dedicated partner such as SMM, a committed education staff, and a volunteer corps that already exist.  I also urge those driving this change to reach out to leaders in the environmental education community and environmental sciences who have the knowledge, commitment, passion and community roots to actually achieve the change they envision. 

Finally, I find it ironic that as we face the crisis of climate change and the need to educate the public about responding to this worldwide catastrophe,  a distinguished environmental education facility of 52 years is being shuttered. There is a greater need than ever for WNC and other nature centers of our state to be strengthened to serve.  I know and respect some of the family members of the Foundation. They have demonstrated a remarkable commitment and affection for the WNC over decades. So, I reserve hope that WNC will be spared from its final chapter and be renewed as its own independent non-profit institution that can continue to enrich and embrace us all. 

Dave Chittenden

Marine on St. Croix

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