Editorial Commentary from Cristina DeFranco Palmisano
Editorial Commentary sent to the Star Tribune by Cristina DeFranco Palmisano
It is difficult to understand why the Manitou Fund would give up a full staff of experienced, specialized individuals in light of their $50 million dollar excess. The staff of Warner Nature Center is most definitely a “worthy cause.” However, it seems, in the recent article by Matt McKinney (November 17, 2019), that retaining the current Nature Center staff is not a priority and likely not even a consideration. The Manitou Fund plan to relaunch Warner Nature Center in “a couple of years” is misguided because the next iteration will not have the decades of intimate knowledge the current staff hold. Furthermore, the closing will sever hundreds, if not thousands, of established relationships.
I suspect that the Manitou Fund is unaware of what they are losing in this transaction. If they had more knowledge of the greater Warner Nature Center’s value, they would do whatever they could to maintain it and even grow it from where it now is. They would not cut all ties - to both staff and users - to create what I expect will be a lesser version of Warner. They would not force out the current exceptionally gifted and uniquely qualified staff. They would not intentionally end relationships with a community that has been supportive and invested in the Warner Nature Center experience for over 50 years.
As an interpretive naturalist with 17 years of experience, I know that this type of job is not one that’s easy to perform. Naturalists know the land; they know science, history, and how systems interact. They know families, schools, districts, volunteers, and the greater community. They know and learn from other naturalists throughout the state and country. They know how to get an audience engaged while outdoors in the best and worst of weather conditions. They know how to tie environmental education into an evolving school curriculum. They know that educating requires so much more than reciting facts. The job of a naturalist is not one that fits neatly into a box. It’s a highly specialized skill set. The absence of these complex skills will make it challenging for the next Warner Nature Center be successful.
The article mentions that a former director of Warner Nature Center is involved in the planning. I would encourage the Manitou Fund to reach out to other centers throughout the state to get a more comprehensive understanding of how environmental education centers work. Perhaps then they will realize why letting the current staff go is such a big setback.
This effort by the Manitou Fund to “retool the Warner Nature Center” has left all of us in the dark. Perhaps the Manitou Fund will surprise us with their plans on January 1st.