How to Run a Nature Center During a Pandemic

Like the rest of Wisconsin, the last several weeks at Wehr Nature Center have been a whirlwind of emails, agency updates, and change. As the reality of this pandemic settled over our state our parent agencies, Milwaukee County and the UW-Madison (Division of Extension), took a lead in informing citizens of the dangers of the coronavirus and preparing employees to transition alternative work situations. By March 13th Wehr’s Visitor Center was closed to the public and soon after our offices closed completely.  

Since then, our entire staff has moved to working from home or been provided with access to public health leave. These steps were taken for the protection of the public, the staff and our volunteers. We all want to help Milwaukee and Wisconsin “flatten the curve”.  But what exactly does telecommute mean? At first it meant many phone calls and emails to teachers and program participants to refund or reschedule their programs. On-going it means working online, meeting by Zoom (a video conferencing app), and collaborating to transition our programming to new “virtual” formats. It is hard not seeing our visitors, students, and volunteers in person during this time, but we are excited to try out some new methods to connect with you in your “Safer at home” locations.

Most of you are probably thinking, enough about the staff, how are the education animals? All of Wehr’s animal ambassadors are safe and being well cared for. Like during our construction in 2019, they have once again gone on vacation. A big thank you to Howard Aprill and his wife Paula for turning their house into a zoo. Howard reports that Stripes, the Eastern garter snake, really enjoys looking out the window from his new spot on the kitchen table. Watch Wehr’s Facebook page and Instagram for photos and updates on the animals.

Just before the ice went off  the lake, work began on Wehr’s new accessible pier. The very strong base (this one won’t float away) has been installed but the decking and railings have been temporarily halted due to the pandemic. I have been assured it will be finished quickly once work can resume. The unpaved section of the service drive near the new office addition will be installed once the pavers are made. We apologize to all of you that are still waiting for your bricks to be put in. Another delay caused by the pandemic. Once we get the all-clear to have the work start again, the memorial bricks will be put in along with the new section of drive. Our new drinking fountain and water bottle-filler is also waiting to be installed.

Please stay safe by practicing safe distances and washing your hands often. Working together we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and return to programming in person as quickly as possible.

Deb McRae, Director, Wehr Nature Center