NEWS ARCHIVE:     Age: 2,926 days

See This Full Issue

All Previous Archived Issues


September 30, 2014

POYNETTE, Wis. -- With 11 new course offerings that build on topics taught in K-12 classrooms, the MacKenzie Center is welcoming 29 new schools and groups eager to participate in its unique environmental and conservation education and outdoor skills programs this year.

From forestry and stream studies to watershed mapping and an exploration of predator-prey relationships, classes at the MacKenzie Center provided hands-on field opportunities to 3,738 students from 90 schools and organizations so far this year. These experiences extended the knowledge and skills developed through regular classroom work. The January through August student numbers are slightly ahead of last year and will continue to grow as more of the new schools begin their involvement with the center.

Year-to-date, students from 16 counties stretching from La Crosse to Milwaukee to Juneau as well as northern Illinois have traveled to take part in MacKenzie programs. Principals and educational leaders from Wisconsin's sister state of Chiba Prefecture in Japan and students from Jianxi University in China also visited the center, which is just 25 miles north of Madison and easily accessible from Interstate Highway 39/90/94.

"With its historic conservation aura and educational opportunities designed for today's students, the MacKenzie Center increasingly draws participants from around our state and around the world," said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. "If you are an educator interested in cutting-edge environmental programs and outdoor skill building for your students, we like to say that all roads lead to MacKenzie."

JD Smith
Center director JD SmithWDNR Photo

JD Smith, MacKenzie Center director, said the center's curriculum draws on the comprehensive science, wildlife management and environmental protection expertise of DNR staff.

"The department's capabilities help set our programs apart from other nature centers," Smith said. "Students gain a unique opportunity to work with members of our education staff and other experts from wildlife, forestry, fisheries and more. Many of our participating schools bring students back for multiple visits, which enables us to work with the teachers and their classes on a more advanced level."

Among the schools with growing ties to the center is the Poynette School District, which has designated the MacKenzie Center as its outdoor classroom partner. Under the partnership, students will visit the center often throughout their K-12 experience, taking part in a progressive range of activities that build on previous skills.

"We are developing a partnership that we hope can go beyond the outdoor opportunities the center is known for," said Matt Shappell, Poynette Schools District Administrator. "We'd like MacKenzie to become our 'outdoor classroom' providing a wide range of collaboration possibilities. The district started with technology education students working hand in hand with MacKenzie folks to put their engineering and design skills into practice -- they've created professional style signage that appears throughout the property."

Smith said the MacKenzie center's dormitories offer an important overnight option for classes traveling from more distant areas of the state. The center also recently added a shuttle bus that provides convenient transportation throughout the grounds and to nearby lakes and streams for additional fieldwork options.

"Our dorms allow us to welcome a wide range of students and international visitors and our accessible facilities accommodate guests with disabilities," Smith said. "In recognition of the growing demand for our programs, we are working with the Department of Administration to complete assessments of our facilities as part of our property-wide strategic planning."

In addition to the expanded curriculum for K-12 students, which now totals some 150 day and overnight programs, MacKenzie offers a variety of seasonal activities.

The 2014 maple education program served 24 schools with more than 1,600 participants and culminated in a successful maple syrup festival championed by the Friends of MacKenzie, a partnering volunteer support group to the center.

Then, in May, the center hosted the Midwest Outdoor Heritage Education Expo, bringing 1,400 students in for an outdoor skills experience. In July, the center held an archery clinic and helped some 100 youth and adults explore the basics of archery.

Hunter education represents an expanding focus at MacKenzie, with Learn to Hunt classes this fall for pheasant, raccoon, bow deer and gun deer running through December. Remaining dates include the weekend of October 18-19, December 6-7 and 13-14. The classes introduce newcomers to Wisconsin's hunting heritage and include instruction and field work before a novice goes hunting with an experienced hunter.

Kelly Maguire
Game farm supervisor Kelly Maguire
WDNR Photo

Smith is working to more closely integrate the MacKenzie Center and the Poynette Game Farm, which shares the same property and each year raises more than 75,000 ring-necked pheasants for stocking programs statewide. The recent hire of Kelly Maguire as the new game farm supervisor means an additional level of expertise can be brought to bear in engaging students with wildlife management practices.

"MacKenzie is a very special place and the connection with the game farm creates a variety of possible opportunities we hope to explore in the future," Maguire said.

Schools, community groups, home school families and others with an interest in learning more about MacKenzie Center programs are encouraged to contact the center's education staff at 608-635-8105 or Additional program details may be found online by searching the DNR website,, for "MacKenzie."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: JD Smith, 608-635-8035, MacKenzie Center director,; Jennifer Sereno, communications, 608-770-8084,

Last Revised: Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Need an expert?

The Office of Communications connects journalists with DNR experts on a wide range of topics. For the fastest response, please email and the first available Communications Specialist will respond to you.