Visitors who enjoy getting back to nature in Peninsula State Park can finally talk – in person – with experts to learn more about the plants, animals, history and ecology of the park. Its White Cedar Nature Center, which dates back to 1937, reopened July 16 and hosted an open house July 19.
Expansion and renovation of the center began in October 2019, but it did not reopen in 2020 when pandemic protocols caused the shutdown of indoor spaces. Then it remained closed for the early part of this year as a COVID-19 precaution, just like other state-operated buildings, but it did not reopen at the same time in June as the independently run golf course clubhouse and the park store at the beach.
“The restoration was done, but staff have been busy putting the exhibits together,” said Eric Hyde, superintendent of Peninsula, Newport and Rock Island state parks. Volunteers helped to return the exhibits to the cases and added spaces in the center.
An ongoing shortage of staff members, especially part-time staff, certainly did not help the reopening. The park added a park naturalist, Lia Risser, on a seasonal basis, and she has been leading activities such as a July 4 Trail Tramper’s Delight hike. The DNR’s regional naturalist, Kathleen Harris, who had been based at Peninsula, retired after 25 years and is now helping the Ephraim Historical Foundation.
The Friends of Peninsula State Park donated $300,000 for the renovation and addition to the center, doubling its size, Hyde said. The addition also included installing new windows, updating the siding and adding two restrooms. The nature center’s renovation came at no cost to taxpayers because $60,000 in grant money covered the rest of the expenses.