Inside Region 3
Midwest Region


Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Celebrates New Visitor Center

Ribbon cutting photo

Regional Director Tom Melius joined community members, Congressman Ron Kind, refuge staff and other elected officials to celebrate the grand opening of the La Crosse visitor center on Sat. August 25. (From L to R: Tara Johnson, La Crosse County Board of Supervisors; State Representative Steve Doyle; Congressman Ron Kind; Tom Melius, Midwest Regional Director, USFWS; Jim Nissan, La Crosse District manager, USFWS; State Senator Jennifer Schilling; Kevin Foerster, Refuge Supervisor, USFWS; Rolly Bogert, chairman, Town of Onalaska; Wes Hurlburt, Onalaska Area Business Association; Joe Chilsen, Mayor of Onalaska. In the front row, Danielle, Emma, Benson, and Heidi look on.). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Garrett Peterson


Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius joined staff from Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge on August 25 to celebrate the grand opening of the La Crosse visitor center in Onalaska, Wis.

The event kicked off with opening words and welcomes from refuge leadership and community officials and was followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony and a day of educational activities.

Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius was pleased to join enthusiastic staff and community partners in welcoming everyone to this new place of learning and sharing. “When it comes down to it, this facility is all about the children. This is a place for families, students and others to start their discoveries of the Upper Mississippi River,” noted Melius.

Attendees were treated to a day full of learning and fun, including family activities, educational talks, guided prairie walks and building tours. Wildlife educator Joan Schnabel shared her knowledge of wild birds and captivated visitors with a live bird demonstration including Sky, her educational red-tailed hawk. Professional photographer Alan Stankevitz shared beautiful images of the refuge lands through the changing seasons and visitors learned about the birds of the sand prairie ecosystem from Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge wildlife biologist Dr. Stephen Winters.

The refuge received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the construction of the buildings. The 12,000 square foot visitor center and 6,000 square foot maintenance building include exhibits, staff offices, storage, bookstore and gift shop, and vehicle work areas.

The facility is designed to maximize “green” materials and technology. Solar panels will supply electricity and hot water, which will offset our carbon footprint. Additionally, environmentally friendly materials, such as flooring made from linseed oil, cork and other natural materials, also help this new facility meet LEED Silver certification.

Landscaping for the Center features local, native plants that require less water and maintenance. Placement of the building maximizes natural light and features building material chosen with energy efficiency and the environment in mind.

Sand Lake Elementary School, a key educational partner of the refuge, will continue to help students explore and discover the refuge throughout the seasons. The Center and surrounding site will be a living laboratory where students can directly observe and interact with nature to learn about math, science and language arts. Accessible trails provide opportunities for exploration of the prairie.

The refuge encompasses one of the largest blocks of floodplain habitat in the lower 48 states. Bordered by steep wooded bluffs that rise 100 to 600 feet above the river valley, the Mississippi Continued. River corridor and refuge offer scenic beauty, a wild character and a productive fish and wildlife habitat in America’s heartland.

The refuge hosts more than 3.7 million annual visits for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and participation in programs. Recreational use of the refuge results in $73.5 million in retail expenditures in the 19 county area surrounding the refuge. Total economic output associated with the expenditures amount to $89.9 million.

Beginning August 26, the visitor center will be open daily through Thanksgiving.

The hours will be as follows:

Monday - Friday 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday - Sunday 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

After Thanksgiving and until mid-May, the Center will be open weekdays. The new visitor center is located near the junction of County Roads Z and ZN on Brice Prairie (N5727 County Road Z) in Onalaska, Wis.

For more information, call 608-779-2399.

Paula Ogden-Muse,
Upper Mississippi River NWR



Last updated: October 1, 2012