The MacKenzie Center, operated and managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, continues to improve and evolve with new staff, programming, events and facilities. The staff of MacKenzie has established new ways to improve children’s exposure to the outdoors and introduced new methods of teaching to enhance the hands-on learning and appreciation for conservation and Wisconsin’s natural resources. We have developed new programs and events to draw more children and families outdoors, incorporated new technology to improve the learning experience and made renovations to the property to offer our visitors improved amenities. The center has a new director, Samantha Kueffler, who joined the facility in May of this year.
This summer we launched our first summer day camp. We had twenty kids from fourth to sixth grade visit the MacKenzie center over a four-day period to learn about outdoor skills. They had a chance to participate in archery, woodcutting, fire and shelter building and geocaching. The program also included a trip to Mirror Lake State Park in Wisconsin Dells where the campers canoed, fished, hiked and swam. The camp was extremely successful and the campers had a blast while learning and experiencing outdoor life. We look forward to hosting two day camps again next summer.
One of the MacKenzie Center’s goals is to get children outdoors as much as possible throughout the course of the day. This goal is becoming increasingly harder with each passing year due to the other opportunities kids have indoors for play and learning. Our staff has found a way to blend the natural outdoors with the technological advances that are occurring so rapidly today. We recently acquired a digital microscope that syncs to an iPad. This system is used during our pond and stream study classes. During these activities, students visit an aquatic environment in search of macroinvertebrates. Students gather these tiny creatures and begin to identify them to determine the overall health and diversity of the aquatic ecosystem. Having the microscope allows students to get a closer view and aids in their ability to correctly identify the species of aquatic life. This activity blends together the technology that children love with the natural world that they most desperately need.
The MacKenzie Center has been working hard to make the property as comfortable as possible for our guests. One of the big steps to make this happen was the renovation of our dormitories. With the help of Friends of MacKenzie Education Center and other gracious donors, we were able to purchase new bunk beds. Overnight groups are much happier with the quality of their stay and a good night’s sleep enhances their learning experience the next day. The dorm walls and floors were also painted to create a more welcoming environment.
Due to these new advancements, the MacKenzie Center has grown in popularity within the surrounding communities. We have had more groups visit than ever before and the students have been given a better learning experience with each passing day. If you’ve never been to the MacKenzie Center and would like to learn more, we have several upcoming events, including our ice fishing clinic Jan. 21. No fishing license (Wisconsin Free Fishing Weekend) or equipment is required to join us in learning about the basics of ice fishing at a local lake. Our night snowshoe hike on Feb. 9 leads visitors on a short trail around the MacKenzie property for families to enjoy beautiful winter scenery and an opportunity for some outdoor exercise and fun.
We are also looking for new volunteers for our Maple Program in March. Volunteers help guide students through our sugar bush, demonstrating how to tap a maple tree and how syrup is made. For more information about events or volunteer opportunities, contact us at (608) 635-8105 or visit dnr.wi.gov and search “MacKenzie”. Be sure to “like” the Friends of the MacKenzie Education Center page on Facebook for more updates.
The Friends of MacKenzie have also begun a capital campaign to help raise funds for programming at the center. Find out more information on their website.