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Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Forest Exploration Center - A Seedling Emerges

County Grounds, Forest Exploration Center, Leave No Child Indoors, STEM Education

I'd like to think of this project like the propagation of a tree.  

Sometimes a seed or a nut falls to the ground.  Or is passed from the digestive tract of a bird.  Maybe a squirrel buries and forgets it.  The seed germinates and sends a shoot upwards towards the light filtering through the forest canopy.  If it is lucky, that sprout will survive predation by a hungry rodent.  As it reaches further for the sun it might survive a browsing whitetail deer.  Recent decades might find it engaged in a battle-to-the-death with competition from invasive species crowding it out for sunlight, water and nutrients.  With more luck, and within a few years, that seedling will grow to a sapling.  Against enormous odds and over many years it might just survive to become a dominant tree in the forest - and be threatened now by an invasive insect from Asia.  Should it survive all of this it will release its progeny to repeat the process all over again.

This struggle can take generations when measured in human lifetimes and it is fraught with peril.

I suspect that over the next three years this FEC project will follow a similar pattern.  Fingers crossed we're going to seek and compete for adequate resources so that this seed of an idea that has been waiting to germinate can survive and flourish.

In case you haven't heard the news - the Forest Exploration Center (FEC) hired a full time Executive Director in December.  John Gee might be described as a human equivalent of the Energizer Bunny.   Since December he's been making the rounds of the state and meeting with potential partners, interested parties and important decision makers.  The news this week is our proposal to launch the FEC public charter school with an educational focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) incorporating an emphasis on the outdoor environment and sustainable forestry.

In our meetings with legislators in Madison, elected officials in city hall, the superintendent of schools, school board and other potential stakeholders the response has been nothing less than enthusiastic.  Tosa already has an elementary STEM program and the FEC school would assist in completing the middle and high school curriculum.

From time to time I am going to use the blog to introduce you to additional details surrounding the planning and advancement of the FEC project.  It has been making progress in the background very quietly for about a decade - while other higher profile projects have recently grabbed headlines and attention.   

So here we are.  We have successfully propagated a seedling.  Instead of handing out cigars I think an appropriate place to begin is to paint for you an outline of how this kernel has been germinating.

Here is an abbreviated history of the project.

In the 1990s the Governor's Council on Forestry and the Wisconsin DNR's Division of Forestry explored how best to reach Wisconsin's largest urban population with a more complete awareness of sustainable forestry.  Research indicated the presence of substantial disconnects between Wisconsin's forest resources and urban residents - particularly in southeastern Wisconsin.  Ecological understanding had the highest disconnect, but there was also a lack of awareness and appreciation for the social, cultural and economic aspects of sustainable forestry.

Remember the battle over the County Grounds going back to County Executive Ament's administration? 

Then State Senator Peggy Rosenzweig and Representative Scott Walker encouraged the DNR to undertake a feasibility study for creating a State Forest on the land for the purposes of not only preserving the green space but to provide an opportunity for forestry education.  The concept of a forestry 'discovery center' was discussed with interested parties. 

The state legislature appropriated funding for planning in the state budget.  Master planning was undertaken for an overall county grounds location and an educational needs analysis completed.  Clearly, there was a need to focus educational efforts in this part of the state.

In 2003 the State of Wisconsin purchased the 67 acre site from Milwaukee County - thus preserving the green space and providing a wooded location in an urban setting for the project.

In the years that followed agreements were made and permits issued for and by the interested parties - namely DNR, the City of Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District.  A market niche study was conducted, interpretive themes studied and a strategic plan was drafted.

In 2009 a founding board consisting of individuals from the community and around the state assumed leadership of the project, a fund raising feasibility study was conducted and the FEC filed articles of incorporation as a 501(c)(3) organization. 

State property and a not-for-profit is an uncommon arrangement.  This is a forest owned by the state - but it is not a State Forest. (Think Kettle Moraine State Forest).  You see, the state owns this forest but has basically said this - Form a non-profit and use your non-profit status to go forth, raise funds, manage this property sustainably and make use of it to educate the public about sustainable forestry and its social, cultural and economic benefits. 

In any event, in 2010 the FEC decided (finally) upon what we were going to name the dang thing - The Forest Exploration Center.  We hired a part-time Executive Director to facilitate our nascent operation and in December of last year advanced that to a full time position.

If you were to visit the property you would notice there isn't a gate.  No park sticker is required for admission.  Since there isn't a forest ranger patrolling the site you can walk all over the place and explore it.  It's pretty cool.  I'm looking forward to going back there in early spring with my dogs.  And at dusk we will delight in the sky dance of the woodcock mating ritual. 

There will be much more to come before too long.  In the interim, you can learn more about us here.

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