The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has begun to explore the creation of an outdoor skills recruitment and retention center which will focus on promoting the education and training of long term mentors to help reverse the nationwide trend of declining hunters, anglers and trappers.

“We believe Wisconsin will be the first state to focus on training long-term mentors for recruiting adults, families and children into hunting, fishing, and trapping,” said Kurt Thiede, DNR land division administrator.

The location that has been identified for this first of its kind facility is the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center near Poynette in Columbia County. The center is owned by the state, provides classroom space, a dormitory, acreage for outdoor skills teaching, and is already the host to many learn-to-hunt events. In addition, it has a rich history of providing outdoor education, and it is in close proximity to southern Wisconsin population centers.

The MacKenzie center is currently run by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in partnership with the DNR and a very active and dedicated friends group.

“Just over six years ago the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation stepped in at a time when the future of the MacKenzie center was uncertain,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “During that time they have introduced thousands of visitors to the outdoors. The Friends of MacKenzie and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation have helped serve an important niche in providing a general environmental education curriculum.”

“The DNR appreciates and acknowledges that the federation has done an exceptional job of offering outdoor education for schools and the general public for the past 6-plus years,” added Stepp.

However, due to increasing operational costs, the DNR has been looking for options for reducing costs, while also refocusing part of its educational offerings to outdoors skills, recruitment and retention. Therefore, DNR began to look toward a model that has worked elsewhere, most notably in the Wisconsin State Park system, a private/public partnership.

“While the environmental educational programming has been beneficial, the costs to continue the current agreement at the MacKenzie center have become too high for the agency, and we are looking to reissue the current contract with a new focus,” stated Stepp. “Through an open process we will be soliciting bids from groups, individuals and organizations to run the center and provide the outdoor skills training and conservation curriculum.”

According to the DNR, they hope that the Friends groups, of which there are now two at the center and State Game Farm complex, along with the village of Poynette will remain active partners in education.

“We now have two Friends’ Groups associated with our Poynette campus,” Thiede said. “Our plan is for the Friends of MacKenzie and the Friends of the State Game Farm, along with the local community to continue to be active partners in outdoor skills and conservation related education.”

The current agreement with the WWF would end later this summer. Funding for the current fiscal year will allow for all classes that have scheduled visits to the MacKenzie center during the Spring Semester and summer to continue. The WWF and any other organizations, individuals, coalition of partners, or corporations will have an opportunity to respond to an Agency Request for Proposals.

“We look forward to developing a durable partnership with stakeholders, industries, hunters, anglers and trappers to ensure our conservation heritage,” added Thiede.

The agency’s RFP will be made available for public review in the spring of 2013, with selection and agreement signed with the successful bidder by fall of 2013.

For more information on the RFP or the MEEC, please contact Kurt Thiede, (608) 266-5833 or South Central Regional Director, Mark Aquino, (608) 275-3262.

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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