Horicon Marsh has been formally recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations. This renowned marsh is home to the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center.
The Wildlife Education Program has been conducted at the marsh since the mid-1980’s. This program focuses on the abundant wildlife resources of the marsh, their ecology and applied management. Public naturalist programs, special events and school education programs aim to connect people with wildlife and their environment by providing outdoor education programs.
In 1992, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased the former Flyway Clinic, a 16,000 square foot building located along Hwy 28, with the intent of developing this as an education center. The building had been abandoned and only the upper floor had actually been developed. This served as the DNR’s Service Center, or staff office, in the Horicon Marsh area and tentative plans were drawn up to expand this to also serve as an education facility.
A non-profit Friends Group was established in 1994 as a fund raising organization to support this cause. The organization has provided countless hours of volunteer assistance to the education program. Following a long campaign, sufficient funds were raised to allow hiring of an architect to develop the final construction plans. In the end, the Friends of Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center reached its goal of raising $1.9 million towards construction of the Center. The State of Wisconsin matched this through the Building Commission and additional funds were provided to DNR to renovate the office area to house its staff, creating a $4.8 million project. After 18 months of construction the new Education Center was completed in late March 2009.
The Education & Visitor Center brings a modern design and provides for enhanced visitor services. The lobby of the building features a spectacular Marsh Viewing Area, a Children’s Discovery area that provide seasonally changing hands-on activities for children to explore various facets of nature, a front desk providing visitor information, and gift shop which has a range of items for visitors to enhance and remember their experience at Horicon Marsh.
In the lower level are two classrooms, which can be opened up into one large room. The classrooms have direct access onto an outdoor patio featuring a giant map of Horicon Marsh. The patio leads visitors onto trails that travel down to the edge and through the marsh.
There is also an auditorium with seating for up to 100 people. It comes with an 8 x 12 foot wide screen, rear projection audio-visual system capable of high-definition projection. This system can project laptop computers, DVD and Blu-Ray discs, all of which can serve the needs for a wide range of meetings, conferences, workshops, and public education programs.
In August 2015 the new Explorium opened in the lower level of the Education and Visitor Center. Visitors will get a glimpse of life at Horicon Marsh thousands of years before European settlement and witness how the current wetland came to be. The experience is narrated by a Clovis point arrowhead, that keeps visitors company throughout the journey as they view, listen to, touch, and even smell exhibits that document the changes to the marsh over time. Videos and interactive displays greet guests at every turn, encouraging audiences of any age to learn more about the history and ecology of Horicon Marsh.
All of these amenities serve to enhance the visitor experience at Horicon Marsh. The center will allow this to be done in a great setting, and at any time of year for visitors from all corners of the world.