A new place to learn
?Where in Montana can you learn how a trout stream works, why wolves howl, what fish and wildlife managers do, and where to find horned toads? Right now, FWP has no place where groups of visitors can learn about these and other aspects of Montana’s natural world and conservation history. But we plan to have one soon.
A top priority for this department over the next few years is to create what we’re calling the Wildlife Education Center. The new facility will be the second half of the Montana Wildlife Center Complex, which includes the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. (The rehabilitation center, built in 2003 to replace a rundown facility across town, temporarily houses orphaned wildlife—primarily bear cubs—until they can be released back into the wild.)
The education center will be in the historic Stedman Foundry building, located near Spring Meadow Lake State Park on Helena’s west side. We plan to outfit the center with state-of-the-art technology and interpretive displays, making it the premier conservation education facility in Montana.
Some exhibits will show wildlife in their natural habitats. One will tell the story of how Montanans have worked together over the past century to restore wildlife populations. A classroom learning center will be used by school groups, hunter and angler education students, and members of conservation education organizations. Students will have access to our department’s vast collection of wildlife pelts, skulls, and mounts, as wells as eggs, birds nests, snake skins, and other interesting items.
We’re especially excited about the center’s theater and multipurpose room, which will seat 100 people. Visitors will be able to watch movies and videos and listen to outdoors education experts. The theater—including a kitchen, tables, and AV equipment—will be available for lectures, satellite links, teacher workshops, community meetings, and more.
Running inside and outside the center will be a real coldwater stream, where visitors will see trout, whitefish, and sculpins in their natural setting. I can’t think of a better way for people to learn how aquatic ecosystems work than to actually look down and see fish feeding on underwater insects. A backyard pond will hold largemouth bass, sunfish, and other warmwater species. Also outside will be an amphitheater where visitors can enjoy day and evening performances while looking out at the scenic state park and distant mountains.
Sales of books, CDs, DVDs, posters, and other items in a gift shop at the education center will help fund the center’s operations.
So far we have stabilized the 7,000-square-foot Stedman Foundry building, originally built in the 1890s, and fitted it with electricity and plumbing. The FWP Foundation is raising funds to complete construction. The total cost of the facility will be $3 million.
Every year more than 13,000 school kids from across Montana come to Helena to visit the state capitol. Roughly 80,000 visit Spring Meadow Lake State Park. The new Wildlife Education Center will attract residents, students, tourists, and conservation groups interested in nature study, fish and wildlife conservation, and Montana history.
The center will be more than just a fun place to visit. FWP’s mission is to provide for the stewardship of Montana’s fish and wildlife. We can only do that with the support and cooperation of the state’s citizens. We want the new education center to instill in visitors an appreciation for Montana’s diverse land and water environments, and an understanding of how fish and wildlife are managed. That way, we hope, even more people will become partners with FWP and work cooperatively with us to conserve the fish, wildlife, and habitat so important to Montana’s history and its future.
M. Jeff Hagener is Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks