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New nature center springing to life

Teacher’s gift to become destination for students, adults alike

Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
The new Andresen Nature Center in Fulton is the former home of the late elementary school teacher Arliss L. Andresen. Her family donated the home and its partially wooded acre, which is adjacent to Heritage Canyon on the banks of the Mississippi, to the city, on the condition it be turned into a nature center.
Caption
Wildlife abounds on and near the grounds of the Andresen Nature Center, at 409 N. Fourth St. The center's mission will be “to educate, inspire, and encourage all to have an appreciation for our natural environment through exploration and demonstration,” its executive director, Kyle Kopf, said.

FULTON – A longtime local elementary school teacher’s love for her little slice of heaven will live on in a nature center that will bear her family’s name.

Arliss L. Andresen, who taught in Ashton, Chadwick and Morrison schools, was 82 when she died on Oct. 16, 2012. She left her neat little two-story home and its acre or so of land, situated along the Mississippi, to her brother and sister, Harold Andresen of Chadwick and Darlene Ladd-Hogan of Farmington, Maine, and to a Fulton church.

The property is about 100 yards from the riverbank, in a section where the Mississippi narrows considerably, and is bounded by vaulting bluffs and beautiful views on either side. About a third of the site is wooded, and it’s connected to even more woods.

Heritage Canyon is adjacent to the north.

According to Arliss’ obituary, posted on the Law Jones Funeral Home website: “One of her greatest joys came from living by the river and the wildlife that would come right up to her house. Arliss loved to feed birds and squirrels, and loved watching the deer.”

She worried what would happen to her home once she was gone, and wanted somehow to ensure that whoever had it after her would keep it just as it is, Harold Andresen said.

“She loved that place, ...” he said. “She was always very careful that no trees were taken down that didn’t have to be, that sort of thing.”

So after Arliss died, he bought out the church’s share, and he and his sister donated the site to the city of Fulton, under the condition that it be turned into a nature center in her memory.

“I’m very pleased with what they’ve got planned for it so far,” Andresen said.

The Andresen Nature Center, 409 N. Fourth St., will be used for environmental and nature-related educational purposes, its executive director, Kyle Kopf, said in an email.

Its mission is “to educate, inspire, and encourage all to have an appreciation for our natural environment through exploration and demonstration,” he wrote.

It’s a joint venture with the Whiteside County Soil and Water Conservation District, which has been looking for a permanent location to provide lectures and field trips, said Kopf, a Fulton native.

“Because the S&WCD committed to supporting the center, the city felt more comfortable in making the commitment to establish and maintain a nature center,” he said.

Planned are permanent and seasonal displays such as hides, pelts, animal mounts and the like. They also likely will include an observation beehive and a large panel showing the 4-billion-year timeline of the history of Earth.

The timeline would include milestones in the natural history of the Fulton area, Kopf said. It would answer questions such as: When did the local limestone rocks form? When did the Mississippi River first cut a valley through the area? When did the first Native Americans settle here? What now-extinct species once roamed the countryside around Whiteside County?

The grounds will be planted with native wildflowers and grasses, “to give visitors a feeling for what the county’s prairies were like prior to their being broken up for agriculture,” he wrote.

The main floor of the two-story house is being converted into the nature center. One of the two primary rooms will become a lecture hall, and the other will be dedicated to Whiteside County area nature displays, including that of a male cougar that was shot in November on a farm near Morrison.

Kopf, a former Motorola engineer and manager in Florida, has experience as a volunteer with a nature center in Maryland. As the center’s caretaker, he will live upstairs rent-free in lieu of a salary.

Local artisans and the Whiteside County Soil and Water Conservation District are lending mounts and exhibits, and the Fulton High School Science Club, with the help of a grant from the conservation district’s foundation, is creating displays.

Although the center still is under renovation, lectures geared toward schoolchildren (and interesting to adults) are set to begin there this summer, Kopf said.

No admission will be charged, but donations will be “graciously and aggressively accepted, hopefully in that order,” Kopf said.

A grand opening is planned, once the cougar is mounted and ready to display. Hours have yet to be set, although plans call for the center to be open at least Friday evenings and weekends year-round, and for special events as needed.

“We have big plans for a little facility!” he wrote.

That, no doubt, would please Miss Andresen tremendously.

You can volunteer

The Andresen Nature Center is guided by a volunteer committee, and a few more members are being sought.

The panel is looking for members "who would more fully represent the younger children of the area," caretaker and Executive Director Kyle Kopf said in an email. "The parent of a home-schooled child would be greatly welcome, as well as a parent who is involved in one of the local scouting organizations."

Volunteers also are needed to staff the center.

The center also has an evolving wish list. To make tax-deductible donations of money or items, get updates, and follow the center's progress, go to facebook.com/AndresenNatureCenter or contact Kopf at kylekopfsr@gmail.com or 815-499-5869.

Lectures planned

Three lectures have been scheduled at the new Andresen Nature Center. All will begin at 1 p.m., and will be presented by Dave Harrison, resource conservationist for the Whiteside County Soil and Water Conservation District.

On June 11, the topic is birds; on June 21, predators; and on July 30, general habitat.

June 21 also is the date of the second annual Bluegrass Festival at Heritage Canyon.

Lectures geared toward adults will be scheduled in the fall.

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