At the MacKenzie Center just east of Poynette, a Friends group is attempting to raise $350,000 to upgrade its wildlife exhibit area that houses wolves, foxes, bison and other animals unfit to live in the wild.
At the May 31 Waunakee Rotary Club meeting, John Frank and Tony Schwartz spoke about their organization, the Friends of the MacKenzie Center. The group formed in 1978, when the center needed volunteers to install new bunk beds in the center’s dormitories, John said. It was the first Friends group to be established to support a Department of Natural Resources Facility, and now has more than 200 members.
The MacKenzie Center is primarily a  children’s outdoor education center, but it offers hiking trails, prairie and wildlife exhibits for all ages to explore.
It was begun by Harley MacKenzie in the 1930s when he was head of the state’s conservation department, the current DNR, John said, and was originally a game farm with pheasants where wild animals were bred and rabies research was conducted.
In the 1970s, the purpose changed. It now includes an environmental center, a pheasant raising facility and the wildlife center with the orphaned animals.
Educational programs and events at the facility bring 35,000 visitors per year, along with 250 different community and school groups.
Visitors come to events such as Maple Fest, MOHEE (the Midwest Outdoor Heritage Education Expo) and the fall fest.
John explained that in the 1940s, 50.35 percent of Wisconsin’s population lived in urban areas. That percent grew to 70.15 percent in 2010.
“We no longer grow up with woods and streams in our backyards,” he said. “As parents, we don’t know how to teach our children about the outdoors because we never learned ourselves.”
The center has faced criticism for keeping wild animals fenced, but John said none are equipped to live in the wild. A pair of wolves raised in a home was removed by conservation wardens with the skills, and large tracts of land are no longer available for bison habitat.
Animals at MacKenzie tend to live longer than those in the wild, he said, adding one whitetail deer lived to be 26.
John said each animal has a story to each children about the importance of allowing young animals to remain in their native habitat.
Other news:
-Schumacher Farm’s Bluegrass Fest is June 16 from 2-8 p.m. and Jim Ableidinger promises lovely weather. Construction is underway at the Center for Rural History there.
-Rolling Dice, a blues and swing band, will play at the Steak Fry on June 27.
-Harold, the club’s exchange student, is looking for employment. This can include odd job jobs such as mowing grass.
-Volunteers are needed at the Relay for Life Beer Tent June 16.
Guests: John Frank and Tony Schwartz, speakers.
Visiting Rotarians: None.
Birthdays: June 12, Alan Langeteig.
Anniversaries: June 7, Don and Mary Hoffman
Greeters: June 7, Bob Klostermann and Ryan Knight; June 14, Tyler Knowles and Neil Kruschek; June 21, Nancy Kuehn-Thomas and Alan Langteig; June 28, Drew Lawrence and Kim Langfeld.