By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
GALENA, Kan. —
An official with Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism said Tuesday afternoon that the department has been approved to take over operations of the Southeast Kansas Nature Center at Schermerhorn Park.
It will be the second nature center the department will operate; the other is in Junction City.
What remains now is completing a written agreement with the center’s board, which must be approved by the Galena City Council, and hiring a director. The state began advertising Tuesday for the position; the deadline to apply is March 15.
The center’s founder, Linda Phipps, a former Galena teacher, currently heads it up. She spearheaded a $60,000 restoration project paid for through grass-roots fundraising efforts. She’s relied largely on volunteers, donations and grants to keep the center going since it opened in 2004.
Phipps, now retired and wanting more time with her family, first proposed two years ago that the state take over its operations. The plan was rejected, primarily because of funding issues the state was facing at the time.
She again pitched the idea to a group of KDWP&T officials in a December meeting at the center. It was receptive, and the plan worked its way up the chain of command.
“It was what we have been hoping for for a long time,” Phipps said. “I feel like this will ensure that the nature center will go on when some of our key people are not there any longer. It’s the answer to a prayer. Or lots of prayers, maybe.”
It’s great news for Galena and for the center, Mayor Dale Oglesby said of KDWP&T assuming operations.
“We think it’s an exciting opportunity to improve the park and to take it to the next level, including new educational aspects,” he said. “We’re looking forward to working with the state on this.”
He said Galena city officials, Phipps and representatives from the center’s board will meet with KDWP&T representatives in coming weeks to draft the memorandum of understanding; no date has been set.
KDWP&T Wildlife Education Coordinator Mike Rader said there will be no disruption of services and operations at the center will continue mostly as they have, although the new director may have additional ideas for programs.
“We want to maintain the involvement of the board and Linda,” he said. “Of course we will have final say on operations, but we’d like to keep them in an advisory capacity,” Rader said.
A large event already planned at the park this spring may be the director’s first formal introduction to the public: The Kansas Herpetological Society will camp April 26-28 in order for some 100 to 150 members to conduct a survey of the reptiles and amphibians there, many of which have been on the state’s threatened and endangered species list.
Phipps estimates the center has had some 20,000 to 30,000 visitors since it opened, including frequent field trips from schools in Baxter Springs, Riverton, Pittsburg, Frontenac, Quapaw, Webb City and Carl Junction.