New interpretive displays are part of larger Wetlands Centre goals

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The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette has completed phase one of a plan to add more interpretive displays at the facility. Director Alicia Mullarkey is pictured with displays on the north wall of the nature center that explain wetlands as well as the importance of the Wetlands Centre site and its restoration. Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) also helped the Wetlands Centre develop a cohesive interpretive master plan for upcoming phases. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette has completed phase one of a plan to add more interpretive displays at the facility.


“We’ve focused the last several years I’ve been here on getting lots of hands-on displays, like the nature nook and a lot of stuff for kids. Now, we decided it was time to add some more interpretive displays that are better for adults as they come through and want to read and learn more,” said Wetlands Centre Director Alicia Mullarkey.


The Wetlands Centre worked with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) on phase one, which included the installation of interpretive displays along the nature center’s north wall.


The displays interpret wetlands: what makes wetlands, how they’re tied to the river and some of the dynamics that are in the wetland, while also talking about the Wetlands Centre conservation story. 


“This is a really unique site in that it used to be the roundhouse. It has a long history there of development, then was abandoned, but also had a lot of cleanup that needed to be done. I think a lot of people don’t realize that story when they come here and see the wetland and the building. They don’t realize the past,” Mullarkey explained.


A key part of the display interprets this success story: how a site can go from a brownfield to a functioning wetland and community space.


“So talking about that restoration process and why we want to protect wetlands and what benefits they provide. Also talking about the history of this place and the reasons why it became the Wetlands Centre in the first place,” Mullarkey said. “Originally, when they had the vision for this place, a lot of talk was about the American School of Wildlife in McGregor, up in the Heights, and trying to create something similar both for the community and visitors too. We can highlight what’s unique about this area and also do workshops on birding and mammals. Not quite recreating the Wildlife School, but doing programs and following in that legacy.”


Another part of phase one was developing a cohesive interpretive master plan for the Wetlands Centre. 


“A lot of the displays we have so far have either been donated to us or are on loan from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Mullarkey said. “We’re taking an overall look at the whole place and what we can do to add more educational value for adults and older kids.”


A $15,000 grant from Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation (UMGC) in 2021, coupled with $5,000 in matching funds from the Friends of the Marquette Driftless Area, covered the project. 


Now, said Mullarkey, a $30,000 UMGC grant awarded in 2022 will help with phase two. Part of that will include organizing and upgrading the aquariums that hold live wetland critters.


“We’ve got a corner over there, but we have a hodgepodge of aquariums that have been donated over time. It’s a tricky space because we’ve got a lot of windows and beams. We’re hoping to fit the aquariums into that space and maximize the area and also upgrade their habitats and have wraps with information about the critters and their natural habitats,” Mullarkey said.


This will be exciting not only for the critters, but the visitors who enjoy the ever-expanding resource.


“When I started here, we only had a turtle,” noted Mullarkey. “Now, we’ve added salamanders and snakes and crayfish and three species of turtles.”


Phase two will additionally create four-sided interpretive displays for the middle of the Wetlands Centre space. They will feature the same cohesive look as the other newly-created displays, but also be moveable depending on the Wetlands Centre’s needs.


“This is a dynamic space because we use it for a community center, sometimes we have to clear it out completely for rentals or when we have big events, and other times we’re set up as more of a nature center with displays,” Mullarkey stated.


Down the road, Mullarkey said the Wetlands Centre also hopes to create a geology wing by the office area, in order to do more interpretation about the Driftless Area’s unique geology. 


“We have a lot of people interested in that and we have a really nice collection from Phil Burgess,” she shared.


For Mullarkey, it’s important to keep growing what the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre has to offer. She hopes the interpretive displays help with that.


“We try to do something new every year, but this is a bigger project we hadn’t done yet. It’s been on the list for a long time, but we wanted to focus originally on making sure we were meeting the community’s needs with our programming and making this a place people want to come and learn about the outdoors and wetlands,” she said. “2023 is our 10th year in operation. So it’s a nice refresh to the building with new things.”

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