Setting the record straight on plans for the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center
A commentary by Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp.
I am taking this opportunity to set the record straight on our plans for the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center.
Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of confusion about our intentions for the MacKenzie center in the days since we made our historic and exciting announcement about our plans for the future.
First, the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center is not closing. However, we do need to make changes to enhance its mission in a cost effective manner.
The Department of Natural Resources' financial outlays to the center have dramatically risen to more than a quarter of a million dollars annually. We need to explore options that will do more for less.
Regarding the curriculum, we are not walking away from environmental education as some assert. Under our forthcoming Request-For-Proposal (RFP), the MacKenzie center will continue to provide environmental education for youth and grade school aged children.
In addition, it will have a renewed emphasis on providing outdoor skills and on training mentors to teach our next generation about hunting, fishing and trapping. The exact environmental curriculum and outdoor skills training offered will be shaped by outside vendors with expertise in this area.
That is the benefit of an open RFP process, there are many great ideas out there and we get to solicit the best ideas available. The sky is the limit so to speak.
Hunting, fishing and trapping is our heritage, it is in our DNA, and it makes us Wisconsin. We won't turn away from the challenge to build on this heritage. We can do better and a new and improved MacKenzie center is an important step in the right direction.
No other state has made a similar commitment to reverse the trend of fewer hunters, anglers and trappers!
I also want to clear the record on our commitment to our Friends groups around the state. As I shared at the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks annual meeting last year…there is no way we can do it without you.
The tens of thousands of volunteer hours, the donations, it humbles me to know how much you all care. As I directed my staff to relay to the Friends of MacKenzie; regardless of what happens next, we are committed to them and want to help them thrive.
Lastly, I want to stress that the RFP process is a public bid process that is transparent and designed to produce the greatest value at the lowest cost. The current contractor, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is free to submit a proposal and I would encourage them to do so.
Every organization, business or group will have a chance to share their vision, compete for the contract and in one case receive the contract to take Wisconsin into the forefront of providing outdoor skills, mentorship training and conservation education at a facility with a rich history of that same mission.
We feel that an open and transparent RFP process should have been used for the current contract when it was established in 2006.
I am excited and encouraged by the inquiries that we have already received from organizations that didn't get the chance to compete in 2006 for this contract. I hope their interest remains strong, and that we have a number of excellent proposals to select from.
This is your DNR. We anxiously look forward to continuing to provide first class educational experiences and training at a great value in a great facility.