Client Spotlight: Madison County Foundation for Environmental Education (MCFEE)

Since its inception in 1982, the Madison County Foundation for Environmental Education (MCFEE) has strived to promote environmental conservation and education throughout Madison County. MCFEE does this through education programs, land acquisition to increase public access, upgrades to county park facilities, and wildlife habitat improvements. The programs and improvements would not be possible if not for donations, grants, and fundraising events done by the board. We sat down with Board President, John Gallagher, and Madison County Conservation Naturalist, Amy Warnke, to hear more about MCFEE’s next big project.

“I think ever since the education portion of the conservation board got started, it was pretty clear that they needed a place to get people out to the park. Over time, they’ve kind of outgrown the current facility,” said Warnke. The solution to that - a new, 12,400+ square foot facility designed to both compliment the existing tourism market in Madison County and add significantly to it. This facility will include interactive exhibits displaying the historic geography of Madison County, large rooms for groups to use for events, and much more.

“I’m most looking forward to the new interpretive exhibits! They get kids in there and just show them in a different way all the cool things Madison County has to offer. Right now, we don’t have those interpretive exhibits that everyone can come in and learn from on their own, without formal programs,” said Warnke. Gallagher also added that there will be maps for all the surrounding parks where people can find a location on the map in the conservation center, and then use geo-coordinates to walk to the actual spot. “It’s really a unique thing,” said Gallagher.

One program that will benefit greatly with the new facility is the summer camp programs for kids. As the county Naturalist, Amy hosts education programs all summer for kids throughout Madison County and surrounding areas. The new facility will not only allow them to use the interactive features and maps, but it also gives them a spot to be able to come back inside after exploring, have a snack, and discuss what they saw. The facility will also be nice for the community. It will have a room for people to rent for weddings, business meetings, or any other group event. “The way the building is designed is very open so it’s almost like you’re in the park when you’re still inside. It’s going to be a real jewel, I think, in Madison County,” said Gallagher.

While the conservation center will be a new feature for the community, it has been in the works for many years by the board and county. “This has been quite an adjustment, speaking for myself as a Board Member, from the previous years. Up until about 2 years ago, we would have our annual giving campaign mailing and our Evening Under the Stars event and $10,000 was a phenomenal year of fundraising. Now, hundreds of thousands of dollars come in,” said Gallagher. It is because of this funding that the conservation center that was once a dream, can become a reality to the county and surrounding area.

So why is all of this important? With modern technology, it is clear to nearly everyone that children are spending less time in nature. While there are pros and cons to the increased use in technology, seeing things in nature is still important, both mentally and physically. “From my standpoint, I think nature inspires curiosity,” said Warnke. “Anytime you get someone of any age curious about something, it leads to lifelong learning.”

That is MCFEE’s goal with the new conservation center. To inspire and excite community members to be interested and interact with nature.