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Located just 20 miles north of Madison near Poynette, the MacKenzie Environmental Center (MEC) has something for everyone. Visitors can hike the nature trails, walk through three museums, view native Wisconsin animals, learn about prairies, climb a fire tower, or have a picnic. There's a lot to see – and it's free!
Over 40,000 people visit the center annually. Some come on organized day trips, others stay overnight at our resident center, and families stop in just to get away from the stress of everyday life.
Let's tour the center. The main nature trail begins at the large parking lot as you enter the grounds and leads past the fire (observation) tower. Look to your left to see American bison on a 20-acre range. The trail leads past the white-tailed deer pen and directly into the wildlife exhibit area, where you'll see several species of native mammals and raptors.
Of special note is the black bear cub enclosure. Almost every year, orphaned or injured cubs are brought to us for care and rehabilitation. The cubs are the only animals in our exhibit that can be taught to survive on their own once released back to the wild.
The trail winds through the conifer arboretum, past the fern garden and continues on to the Logging History Museum, Aliens & Oddities of Nature Museum, maple syrup and forestry exhibits, nature pond and crabapple orchard – a must-see during the spring! The Conservation Warden Exhibit is currently under development.
If hiking is your game, drive to the south parking lot and enjoy each of five trails that begin here. Two are paved and fully accessible to those with mobility impairments. A guidebook for each trail describes the points of interest.
Now, bring out that picnic basket, because the large picnic area is not far away. A covered pavilion, accessible toilets, tables and grills are available for your use.
We can help teachers and group leaders plan a field trip to the center. Spring and fall are the most popular times, so make your reservations early! We limit attendance to 300 students a day to prevent overcrowding. A nature pond has mud turtles, cattails, minnows, and invertebrates your group can examine.
Teachers wishing to spend more time on environmental studies may find the MEC residential program especially convenient. You'll have access to a newly renovated lodge complete with classrooms, library, commercial kitchen, multipurpose area, and a beautiful fireplace for the quiet times. Sleeping quarters are bunkhouse style with each of four sections capable of sleeping 20 people. The typical stay is three days and two nights. Fifth through eighth graders are the primary audience. All programs and activities are pre-planned with our education coordinator. At least one DNR educator is available every day to assist where needed. Past workshops have included Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, constructing a birchbark canoe, and building snowshoes.
For program information, fees and registration details, please call (608) 635-8105.
Join us in July for a guided tour of the center's restored prairies. Are you interested in mushrooms? The Friends of MacKenzie Center conducts the first annual "mushroom walk" in September.
Have you ever made or tasted real maple syrup? Here's your chance!
As many as 800 students learn the history of maple sugaring, tree structure and value, the photosynthetic process, and see how sap is boiled down to make syrup.
Around the third Saturday in March, the public is invited to our Maplefest. The day begins with a terrific pancake breakfast at the resident center sponsored by the Poynette Optimist Club. Then, enjoy a short video on the syrup-making process followed by a guided tour of the sugarbush and evaporator. Try some sap tea, or savor maple syrup on vanilla ice cream. And don't miss the dill pickles swimming in syrup! For information and dates for all special events, call (608) 635-8110.
We hope to see you at MEC soon!
Derek Duane directs the MacKenzie Environmental Center at Poynette.
As you travel through Milwaukee to get to Havenwoods State Forest, you don't expect to find it here – 237 acres of green, water, trails and a bit of quiet sandwiched between the typical city features. But this little haven in the city has become a busy center for people of all ages to learn about the environment and to reconnect themselves with the land.
Looking over the property today, you'll see very few signs of the prison, the military facilities, missile base or the landfill that were once here. Quiet trails now wind through open fields, scattered woods and around a small pond and creek adjoining the Havenwoods Environmental Awareness Center – a 10,000-square-foot facility housing classrooms, visitor services, an auditorium, workspace and restrooms. At the center, groups of city kids who have little experience with nature can attend field trips led by Havenwoods naturalists during spring, summer, and fall. They meet snakes, toads and turtles close up, which helps develop a connection to animals, and an awareness to treat them with respect. Besides focusing on urban wildlife, Havenwoods educators lead trips on insects, plant ecology, sensory awareness, pond ecology and more. There is no charge for group programs, but groups need to make arrangements in advance. Call the center to get a list of school programs.
Havenwoods and the Home Horticulture office of the Milwaukee County Extension welcome people to develop green thumbs at the forest. Area residents can rent one of our 20 small gardens to raise their own produce through our Shoots 'n Roots program. Buds 'n Sprouts, our youth gardening program, brings six groups of kids to Havenwoods once a week during summer to plant, tend and harvest gardens. Every week the kids sample newly ripened veggies and listen to a garden-related story. Naturalists conduct activities in ecology, economics, botany, health and nutrition related to growing and eating food. The program aims to help the children develop a positive lifetime skill, connect with nature, and treat the earth with care. Contact the center director by mid-May if you're interested in this program.
Many of the center's activities and services are geared to meet state standards for environmental education. Local college students studying to be teachers take EE methods classes to help meet their training requirements. In our Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, and WET workshops, teachers learn how to integrate EE concepts in all academic subjects.
Starting this spring, Havenwoods will join local nature centers in hosting a core of environmental education courses by UW-Milwaukee for teachers specializing in EE while pursuing master's degrees.
Havenwoods is a resource center for teachers and youth leaders. We have an extensive lending library of activity/curriculum guides, videos and teaching materials ranging from rubber animal footprints and magnifiers to collecting nets and groundwater models. Groups with kids ages 6-12 benefit from borrowing our Eco-Explorer kit on trees.
Havenwoods truly is a center for learning valuable life lessons. Kids from youth organizations regularly come here to volunteer on the grounds. Neighborhood children spend summer days exploring the woods and ravines. College students who've attended EE classes at Havenwoods often come back as teachers to participate in school field trips with their students, and to attend workshops to build on their skills.
Judy Klippel directs the Havenwoods State Forest and Environmental Awareness Center in Milwaukee.