Surprise Grants Provide Nature Centers Relief From COVID

By Dave Horst, Donor Services & Environmental Grant Manager, Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region 

If you were at an area nature center recently and heard a strange sound you couldn’t identify, that wasn’t a rare migrating warbler. It was a sigh of relief from the naturalist.

Dave Horst

Eight area nature centers were informed recently the Community Foundation had awarded them unrestricted grants to help them overcome the effects of COVID-19. The pandemic has cost them revenue from school field trips, other educational programs and special events. (See an in-depth report on the issue.)

“That is wonderful news and such a relief to a small organization such as ours,” says Louie Lecker, naturalist at Brillion Nature Center. “We greatly appreciate the support of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley and your belief in our mission.”

“Thank you for the wonderful news,” says Tim Ewing, director, naturalist and the only full-time employee at Navarino Nature Center in Shawano County, adding that it was like a weight was lifted off his shoulders as he read the email about the grant.

The grants from the Bright Idea Fund to the eight nature centers totaled $33,000, not enough to solve all their troubles. The grants are unrestricted, meaning the nonprofits can spend them on whatever need they choose. Similar grants are being distributed to nonprofits working in arts and culture, diversity and human services as well.

“Wow. This is welcomed news,” says Randy Tuma, executive director at Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Grand Chute.

The needs are plentiful. Brillion Nature Center ended its fiscal year June 30 with a deficit. Bubolz and Heckrodt Wetland Preserve in Menasha have instituted rolling furloughs. Bubolz lost revenue it was counting on as a wedding and meeting venue. At Mosquito Hill Nature Center in New London, spring revenue was down 50 percent from last year, and its annual fundraiser is canceled.

Programs are starting to return, with safety procedures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control. Nearly all annual banquets and auctions, which can supply half of a nature center’s annual budget, have been canceled. Plenty of people are on the nature center grounds, because trail use spiked with the shelter in place orders. The centers are working toward inviting them back into the buildings as paying guests.

Donors who wish to add to the support from the Bright Idea Fund can contact their donor services manager. The nature centers awarded grants were: Brillion Nature Center; Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, Grand Chute; Fallen Timbers Nature Center, Seymour; Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha; Ledgeview Nature Center, Chilton; Mosquito Hill Nature Center, New London; Navarino Nature Center near Clintonville; and 1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna.