Delve into nature at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre this summer

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The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette, will offer nature programming for youth of all ages this summer. People are welcome to stop any day, however, to explore the wetlands and native plantings and identify local wildlife. (NIT file photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

This summer, delve into nature at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette.

Open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Wetlands Centre will offer not only a variety of programs, but serve as a destination for families looking for some daily outdoor fun.

“We want families to come out this summer,” said Wetlands Centre Director Alicia Mullarkey. “We want to be a community resource, to get kids and parents outside.”

One of the featured events is the “Wetland Explorers -Nature Tots” program for kids ages 2 to 5. Offered every Wednesday, June 7 through July 19, the free programs will last an hour, from 10 to 11 a.m.

“Wetland Explorers is an opportunity for preschool-age kids to explore nature,” Mullarkey explained.

Programs will be discovery-oriented, with hands-on projects. Each week will have a loose theme, but can be adapted to fit the attendees’ interests, she noted.

“They lead the way,” Mullarkey said. “They can just play in nature, which is something that’s kind of been lost, that unstructured play.”

Mullarkey said it’s also good, developmentally, for kids to explore nature with other kids.

“They’re in the wetland, dipping for tadpoles,” she described. “That should be part of every kid’s childhood.”

This summer, the Wetlands Centre will also partner with Clayton County ISU Extension and Outreach to offer “Wild Wetlands” day camps.

The first camp, for kids in kindergarten through third grade, will be held Tuesday, June 20, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The second, for kids in fourth through sixth grades, will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18.

Mullarkey said she reached out to the Extension office after learning about some of the other camps held around the county. The Wetlands Centre, she thought, would be a prime location.

Like other programs, “Wild Wetlands” will also be explorer-oriented, said Mullarkey.

“A majority of the time will be spent outside, finding out what’s living in the wetlands and how the wetlands work,” she explained.

The longer day will allow participants to explore topics more in-depth.

“They can catch critters, bring them back in, look through the microscope and spend more time with them,” Mullarkey shared.

Hopefully, she said, the camps will stimulate further interest.

“This will guide them and get them excited,” she continued. “Then, they can take it home and do it in their own backyards.”

There is a small fee for these day camps. Visit www.extension.iastate.edu/clayton to find registration information.

Programming doesn’t end there. On Thursday, June 22, seventh- through 12th-grade students are welcome to attend a program that combines both service learning and science. Participants will learn about conservation practices like invasive plant control and water monitoring, along with the science behind them, Mullarkey said.

Some popular events will also be back this summer, including the “Campfire Critters” nature night on Friday, July 14, and Dino Day on Saturday, July 29.

People are welcome to visit the Wetlands Centre any day, though, Mullarkey stressed. 

A trip to the Wetlands Centre, she said, will yield views of birds like herons, egrets, ducks and geese. Frogs, turtles and muskrats can be seen, along with insects such as butterflies and dragonflies. 

“The prairie plants are starting to bloom,” she added, “so you can see the diversity of prairie plants and the abundance of pollinators that utilize them.”

Whether it’s dipping a net in the wetland, identifying plants or looking at a small organism through a microscope, the facility has the equipment and knowledgeable staff to aid people, she said.

“It’s also a great place to come and picnic,” she said. “We’re available to do all those things.”

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