Osborne Conservation Center - Wildlife exhibit will get facelift

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Clayton County Conservation Director Jenna Pollock and Naturalist Kenny Slocum discuss some of the upcoming changes to the Native Wildlife Exhibit at the center.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

A popular Clayton County tourism draw is getting a much-needed makeover.

The wildlife exhibit located in the lower level of the Osborne Conservation Center will be upgraded over the winter months. Engaging, interactive modular units will replace some of the current materials. Elements to enhance existing displays will be added, as well. For example, in the classroom where animal pelts hang along one wall, there will soon be informational pieces that talk about the fur trade, it’s importance to Northeast Iowa and related concepts.

“Everything will fit together to tell a unified story,” explained naturalist Kenny Slocum. “Our goal is to showcase Clayton County and many of the things that make it unique.”

This is the first major overhaul of the space since displays were installed in 1988. The cost of materials will be covered with an Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation grant of just over $17,100. Staff and volunteers will do the actual installation work.

“If we’d used a professional design and fabrication company—the kind that museums use—the project would’ve cost over a $1 million just for one display,” said County Conservation Director Jenna Pollock. “Of course, that’s out of the question for us. This proposal is a great alternative that gives us something that’s both cost-effective and sustainable.”

Pollock also sought state funding through the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program but the Osborne Center project didn’t make the final cut.

“Eight new nature centers are being built in Iowa and other older centers like ours are trying to stay current so there’s great competitive for state funds,” she continued. “That makes us especially grateful that UMGC supported this project.”

One of the more ambitious additions will be an “ice cave” replica that will be large enough for younger visitors to crawl through and explore. Ice caves or algific talus slopes are a rare phenomenon that exists in Iowa, a few other places in the Midwest and in Russia. In winter and early spring comparatively warm air rises from an elaborate system of sinkholes, causing cold, moist air to be drawn into the north-facing talus slopes and sent through fissures where it turns to ice on the walls of the cave. In summer and fall, the system is reversed with cool, moist air venting to the talus slopes, creating a unique, fragile ecosystem.

“This is such a unique feature of this area so we felt it was important to feature it in some way,” Slocum added.

The popular fossil display, which gives visitors a chance to “dig” for fossils, will be updated and made more accessible. The center will also add a “sandbox” that uses technology to simulate rainfall onto different configurations of sand.

“We can play out various scenarios to show how water collects differently when the landscape is manipulated,” Pollock explained. “This display will be good for demonstrating cause and effect in flood-prone areas.”

The Osborne Center, located five miles south of Elkader on Highway 13, is a popular destination for school groups.  For that reason, Pollock hopes to have the work completed by spring.

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