Fifty years’ worth of maps, trail guides, thank you cards, photographs and other documents from the shuttered Warner Nature Center have been sent to the Minnesota Historical Society, where curators plan to catalog the center’s archives over the next few months.
But the Warner center itself will someday reopen with a new building and renewed purpose, said Greg McNeely, one of the four trustees of the Manitou Fund, the White Bear Lake-based nonprofit owner.
Fund officials on Dec. 31 closed the nature center near Marine on St. Croix, and McNeely said the old building should be torn down because mice, electrical problems and rot have taken their toll on the wood structure.
But he also said the nature center was important to his late father, business magnate Donald McNeely, and that he feels an obligation to continue his family’s commitment to it.
Greg McNeely said he would like to see the trail guides program return to Warner, and more diverse groups of students visiting. No timeline has been set for rebuilding, he said.
“As long as I’m around I’m going to make sure it’s top-notch,” he said.
Longtime Warner volunteers and fans were surprised and saddened when Manitou Fund officials announced the center’s closing last year, ending a five-decade partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Eleven staffers were let go last month after they relocated the nature center’s collection of live animals and scientific exhibits. Dozens of volunteers who taught schoolkids about the animals and plant life found at Warner’s property were devastated by the news but said they remain hopeful about what’s to come.
Most importantly, the former Warner volunteers want to see their research continue even though the center is closed. Former volunteer Dllona Clendenen said decades of annual bird banding during spring and fall migrations, a newer bog study, research on a local population of the endangered Blandings Turtle and other science projects shouldn’t end, especially because the fund plans to reopen Warner someday.
“I feel very strongly that we should be able to continue the research that was started here,” said Clendenen.
McNeely said he’d like to see scientific research continue at the center, but that finding adequate insurance has been a problem.
To create the Warner archives, Minnesota Historical Society curators worked side by side with nature center staffers and volunteers over the past few months, said Kate Hujda, curator of manuscripts at the Historical Society. A longtime Warner volunteer had invited the Historical Society to take a look at the trove of documents.
“It allowed us to more thoughtfully document the impact of the Warner Nature Center,” Hujda said.
The result was nine large banker boxes of documents, photographs, a doll named “Andy Acorn” that was the center’s mascot, and other items that tell Warner’s story.
Some of the oldest paperwork includes a ledger with meeting minutes of the Nature Study Club, a women’s social and activist club, that was kept by Rose Warner in the 1940s.
The Warner archives will become part of the Historical Society’s permanent collection. It will be open to the public and should be available at the society’s Gale Family Library once curators finish cataloging everything, which should take a couple of months, said Hujda.