Hanson Nature Center open to public

Hanson Nature Center open to public Main Photo

8 Apr 2024

News, Blog

The Hanson Nature Center, located two miles north of Leland, is now open for public viewing and will allow visitors to learn about the natural lands and species of Winnebago County.

The center plans to have its grand opening on July 13, 2024. While the center is open, the Winnebago County Conservation Board is waiting on grant approvals to furnish the building and build its exhibits.

“This is a very busy intersection right here; people drive by this all the time, and I don’t think anybody ever stopped to take the time and see what a unique are this is,” said Lisa Ralls, naturalist for the Winnebago County Conservation Board.

The center’s location is now a central spot to much of the county, but that alone is not what makes it an ideal spot. The center occupies the wetlands and prairies native to Iowa, showing visitors what much of the state looked like hundreds of years ago.

According to an article published by the University of Northern Iowa, “Prior to Euro-American settlement 85% of Iowa was occupied by prairie. Today less than 0.02% of pre-settlement prairie remains...” The Iowa Department of Natural Resources stated that before this settlement, wetlands covered about “11% of Iowa’s surface area,” “but nearly 95% of them have been drained.”

The 7,680-square-foot, two-level nature center holds an exhibit space, activity/workshop area, offices, staff meeting room and kitchenette. The building also has a program and meeting room that seats 85-100 people and is available for rent for various private meetings and parties.

The new space will allow the conservation board to implement more programming and on a larger scale compared to its former remote and small building.

“In the past, it was kind of hard to get guest speakers to come in because we never had a space where we could actually do programs,” said Ralls. “Every time we wanted to get a guest speaker or do a program where we were going to get more than 10 people, we had to reserve a room at the YMCA or the bank.”

The nature center will also be a great place for wildlife viewing, and the board hopes to place several boxes and houses around the property to attract various animals.

“We’re hoping people will utilize this area out here just as much as they use the building,” Ralls said. “... And we’ve already documented several dozen different species of birds and animals out here. We’re excited about it greening up out here because once it greens up, we are going to see and hear a lot more stuff.”

The Hanson Nature Center is looking for volunteers to help run the reception desk, which will allow the building to maintain regular open hours. Those interested can inquire by calling the Winnebago County Conservation Board at 641-567-3390.

It is also still accepting donations to furnish the center and put up exhibit displays. Donations can be made here.

“Hopefully we will get more people excited about the outdoors and more educated about our natural resources--all things that we’ve been trying to do all these years, we can do it even better now,” Ralls said.

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