At Wickiup Nature Center in Linn County, you can visit the physical embodiment of this blog: what I’m trying to do with words and pictures, they are doing in real life. Aquatic, terrestrial, and wetland habitats are accessible by well-maintained and marked trails. A beautiful, engaging building, and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Here is a place to learn, to make connections, and to have fun!
The wetland is not far from the parking area and entrance. A signboard points the way, and a wide, sturdy boardwalk allows you to get right out into the action. Up close and personal, no boots required! The central open-water area has several nesting structures, and dense cattails grow in a (presumably) shallower margin. We saw and heard waterfowl, blackbirds, and amphibians. Signboards aid identification and describe the ecology of the wetland. I’d describe this as a fairly typical freshwater marsh. I’ve seen quite a few similar wetlands around Iowa. A nice place to visit, but honestly, not exactly notable. No, something else makes this place really special.
People. Connecting people to each other, and to the natural world, is the purpose of a nature center.
At Wickiup, the idea is to integrate this wetland with other habitats, via trails and signs and programs. The staff obviously carry that further, by teaching about the long view of geologic and human history. Visitors look into a prehistoric past, and engage today with activities to make a better tomorrow. The displays and programs invite us to think about other people, and other species, and how we can understand them better. Dioramas and sculpture and specimens provide “a sense of place.” Honey produced on-site connects us to the flowers and the bees and the bee keepers. A notice on the bulletin board asks us to be on the lookout for “Civet Cats,” so we can aid in a scientific study. All the exhibits and programs reinforce the dual educational and preservation missions, and to invite visitors to be a part of the mission.
During my visit, they were readying for a celebration of the new natural playscape. It is filled with beauty and whimsy and invites you to enjoy fresh air and exercise and to explore. Nothing more hopeful or future-oriented than playing with our children!
Admittedly, this blog isn’t nearly as much fun, as a playscape. Hopefully, readers will nevertheless be inspired. Along the way, I try to teach little lessons, and share my passion, and ask questions. Perhaps readers will choose to visit a wetland or two, or share with others, or join in the work of preserving and studying our wetlands. Thanks for reading, and supporting my mission.
I’ll let Aldo Leopold have the last word (carved in rock, no less). Peace.