HORICON MARSH EDUCATION & VISITOR CENTER

Horicon Marsh has been formally recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations. This renowned marsh is now home to the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center. Due to its international significance, and the fact that scientists from around the world have traveled here for professional training to improve conservation programs in their own countries, this facility is called the International Education Center. Over the years, 66 delegations of scientists from 41 foreign countries have come to Horicon Marsh to participate in special educational programs.

The Wildlife Education Program has been conducted at the marsh since the mid-1980’s. This program focuses on the abundant wildlife resources of the marsh, their ecology and applied management. The program relies on the diverse wildlife to develop a wide range of educational programs aimed at introducing and sharing our native wildlife with a broad audience.

For many years, public naturalist programs, special events and school education programs, which were developed to complement in-class curricula, aimed to connect people with our wildlife and their environment by providing outdoor education programs. However, due to a lack of facilities, this education program relied almost entirely on the trail system at Horicon Marsh to conduct these programs. A downstairs meeting room in the old building occasionally served as the only classroom available for indoor lessons, workshops and a place to escape during inclement weather.

In spite of these constraints, the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Education Program was successful in providing educational experiences for more than 200,000 people over the past 25 years. However, the growing demand for education services and the success of this program required a more permanent facility to allow it to expand and operate on a year-round basis. As a result, a goal was established to develop an education center on the grounds of Wisconsin’s best-known wetland.

In 1992, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased the former Flyway Clinic, a 16,000 square foot building located along Hwy 28, with the intent of developing this as an education center. The building had been abandoned and only the upper floor had actually been developed. This served as the DNR’s Service Center, or staff office, in the Horicon Marsh area and tentative plans were drawn up to expand this to also serve as an education facility.

A non-profit Friends Group was established in 1994 as a fund raising organization to support this cause. The organization also has provided countless hours of volunteer assistance to the education program. Following a long campaign, sufficient funds were eventually raised to allow hiring of an architect to develop the final construction plans. This provided both blueprints and a project budget which helped drive the final phase of fund raising. In the end, the Friends of Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center reached its goal of raising $1.9 million towards construction of the Center. The State of Wisconsin matched this through the Building Commission and additional funds were provided to DNR to renovate the office area to house its staff, creating a $4.8 million project.

Construction was begun in November 2007, keeping much of the original building, and after 18 months of construction the new Education Center was completed in late March 2009. Due to construction delays, DNR staff and the education program moved into the new building only two weeks before the start of the busy spring season, so an effort was made to transplant the education program to the new building and continue to provide educational services for the spring visitors.

This new building provided the education program with an opportunity to conduct the existing education programs in a much more elaborate manner. Due to the many new features, it also provided an opportunity to conduct entirely new programs that had not been offered to date. The 2012 education program schedule reflects this by providing the core education services, plus many new activities, including Movies at the Marsh, a guest lecture series, art exhibits, and other programs and special events.

The Education & Visitor Center brings a new modern design and provides for enhanced visitor services. This building features a spectacular Marsh Viewing Area with its three-sided glass walls focusing out onto the marsh. Adjacent to this is the Children’s Discovery Room that will be further developed to provide seasonally changing hands-on activities for children to explore various facets of nature. A front desk provides visitor information and is located next to the gift shop which has a range of items for visitors to enhance and remember their experience at Horicon Marsh.

In the lower level are two classrooms, with seating for 30 people in each room, which can be opened up into one large room. The classrooms are joined by a mudroom for equipment storage for conducting outdoor education programs and open onto the marsh with direct access onto an outdoor patio featuring a giant map of Horicon Marsh. The patio leads visitors onto trails that travel down to the edge and through the marsh.

The interior walls facing the classrooms provide space for art exhibits with over ninety linear feet of display area. A lower lobby serves as the Traveling Exhibit Area where changing exhibits and displays can be erected throughout the year. Adjacent to this is a kitchenette for serving snacks or providing space for catered meals to conference attendees.

The primary feature of this part of the building is a high-tech auditorium with seating for up to 120 people. It comes with an 8 x 12 foot wide screen, rear projection audio-visual system capable of high-definition projection. This system can project laptop computers, VHS tapes, DVD and Blu-Ray discs, all of which can serve the needs for a wide range of meetings, conferences, workshops, and public education programs.

All of these amenities serve to enhance the visitor experience at Horicon Marsh and provide for year round education opportunities. However, the education center is only a grand tool for conducting an effective education program. In spite of these many features, it still is the education program that brings meaning to the Horicon Marsh experience. The Education Center, however, will allow this to be done in great comfort, in a plush setting, and at any time of year -for visitors from all corners of the world.