Driftless Area Wetlands Centre
Name of organisation: Driftless Area Wetlands Centre
Funding support: City of Marquette, grants, and donations
Number of staff: 1
Number of visitors per year: 4,500
Overall aims of the centre
Our mission is to provide a unique learning experience that connects people to the natural world and empowers them to positively impact their local environments.
Description of the centre
The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre is located in Marquette, Iowa, along the Mississippi River and in the southwest corner of the Driftless Area Zone, a location where the last glacial advance did not touch this area of the state. The melting glaciers carved the valley, filled the floodplains, and left the steep cliffs, deep valleys, and rich riverine wetlands. The incredibly rich bottomlands adjacent to the river valley fed the passage of migrating wildlife, such as hawks and eagles, egrets and cranes, ducks and geese, herons and terns, warblers and orioles.
The area is rich in human history as well, as many Native Americans, explorers, fur trappers, soldiers, settlers, railroad employees, farmers, and road and bridge builders called this area home. Endemic species, such as the Iowa Pleistocene Snail (an endangered species and important climate change indicator) and Northern Monkshood (a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act), live here. Threats to the unique ecology and geology of this area include: habitat fragmentation, increasing urbanization, grazing cattle, industrial agriculture practices, and most recently, frack sand mining.
4,500 visitors stream through the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre each year, viewing interpretive signage telling the stories of the Driftless Area, wildlife displays, live animals, and rotating geology exhibits. As a 3-acre site that transitions into urban acreage, we focus our activities around the flora and fauna found in the man-made wetland, restored prairie, and native tree plantings.
We currently host 52 events per year that cover a wide range of topics and age groups, such as: phenology, astronomy, geology, wildlife, botany, renewable energy, art, trout fishing workshops, hunting workshops, wild edibles reforestation efforts, migratory birds festivals, wetland research with school groups, research efforts by local organizations and individuals, youth backyard campouts, nature hikes, community education (plant your own prairie, garden for wildlife, etc.), community events around area holidays (Christmas, Easter), and a farmers market featuring locally-produced items and live music.
Main CEPA work areas
We communicate our events and nature topics through our website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram pages. We also have weekly newspaper coverage through the local paper, weekly radio nature program every three months, and a tourist co-op blogsite that serves to raise awareness about our events and conservation practices we have enacted at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre. Interpretive signage and ranger-led tours educate visitors about the ecology, geology, challenges, and current conservation practices occurring throughout the Driftless Area.
Our education initiatives are embedded in our community events and we host school groups as well. We encourage community members of all ages to get involved in our “Driftless Area Ambassadors Program.” Once participants attend three educational events, three entertainment events, and complete a special project of interest (e.g. constructing a rain garden, presenting to the public on a topic, gathering data for our phenology app, etc.), the participants become “Ambasssadors” of the Driftless Area, as they are now intimately familiar with the unique geology and diverse ecology in their backyards. We hope this program spreads nation-wide with participants from different biomes “competing” against one another to have the most bio-diverse habitat and knowledge of its working components.
Citizen scientists are also invited to present their research findings to the public at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre. We are basically marketing nature as an alternative to traditional forms of United States popular entertainment in the United States of America: videogames, TV, organized sports, and shopping. We aim to remove apathy and the notion that what I do doesn’t really matter among youth. You can get involved! You can make a difference!
Top three successes
HawkWatch is our most successful event, due to its many partners (Upper Mississippi River U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge, Upper Iowa Audubon, Effigy Mounds National Monument, and LaRiviere Park) that have hosted the event over the past 10+ years. Visitors are also intrigued by the live raptors, speakers, live banding station, and overall National Geographic feel. It is the perfect event for locals and to draw tourists to the Mississippi River, since it features migrating raptors and bald eagles (the United States of America’s national emblem and a successful endangered species recovery story).
Our Welcome Spring with a Petting Zoo and Easter Egg Hunt is our second most successful event. We aim to make it more nature-oriented in years to come, but it is currently popular as families have the holiday reserved on their calendars for the annual Easter Egg hunt and are looking for fun, family-oriented events to attend. Astronomy Night is our third most successful event. It is an annual event hosted by teachers from our partnering school district (MFL MarMac) and a local, civic astronomy group, the Wyalusing Starsplitters.
We rent a state-of-the-art digital planetarium for inside and outdoor stargazing (can accommodate all groups: elderly through youth) and host fun activities that change from year to year. When community members are involved, it leads to a much more meaningful experience for participants, as they come to realize how diverse our region is.
Top three challenges
Our least successful events do not appear to be related to content, but rather as a result of scheduling conflicts, convincing locals to set aside time for these activities (that they do not need to leave town for entertainment), and getting the word out. Youth especially (and adults) are very busy with jam-packed schedules, so scheduling around their activities is key (football games in the autumn, basketball games in the winter, children’s bedtimes, etc.).
I would suggest to not give up if an event is not successful. We are educating on why it’s important that people spend their time differently, and that is a tough road to build. We are also still figuring out which topics the public is most interested in and wants to learn more about (e.g. geology, hunting and fishing, conservation practices, etc.), and with that information we will be able to host more successful events.
Creating signage; site information; Producing written materials
Setting up a new visitor centre; Managing / creating habitat; Running a visitor centre; Building / maintaining structures
Engaging the local community; Working with volunteers
Education and communication
Delivering adult education; Working with primary schools; Working with secondary schools
PR and marketing; Running effective administration; Fund-raising; Project planning.