With the gentle flutter of tiny wings, a cluster of butterflies gently lifts into the air, symbolically opening the new Weston Family Tall Grass Prairie Interpretive Centre, near Stuartburn, Man.
“This Interpretive Centre will anchor the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) Manitoba Region’s Prairie Studies education and outreach programming as well as be NCC’s base of operations for stewardship and research activities in the Tall Grass Prairie,” said Kim Bassey, Co Chair, NCC Manitoba, during the opening ceremony.
The W. Garfield Weston Foundation is the major funding partner for the new centre, and family member Eliza Mitchell was on hand for the official opening. This Foundation is very interested in conservation, preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species, according to Mitchell.
“Education is the key when it comes to conservation matters,” she said. “Education will ensure the continued protection of these vital places.”
Tall grass prairie is the most biologically diverse and productive type of grassland in North America. At one time, the tall grass prairie covered millions of square miles. Today, the tall grass prairie ecosystem is one of the most ecologically significant habitats in Canada and the most threatened. Only half of one percent of the original tall grass prairie remains in tact.
“NCC has been active in the securement and stewardship of lands in Manitoba’s Tall Grass Prairie Preserve since 1992 when we began to develop partnerships to protect the natural habitat,” said Bassey, “The scale of NCC’s conservation activity has only been possible through the vision, leadership and financial support provided by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.”
Through the generous support of this foundation and other partners, NCC is able to increase and enhance community support, understanding and participation in its conservation programs through the development, ongoing maintenance and staffing of an Interpretive Centre that is open to the public for three months of the year.
In August 2009, with the Foundation’s support, NCC purchased the 160-acre Tkachuk property and 3,000 square foot house.
“The redevelopment of that house into The Weston Family Tall Grass Prairie Interpretive Centre has been a four-year project and labour of love which culminates in today’s grand opening of this facility,” said Bassey.
The Centre features hands-on, interactive and engaging exhibits and displays within the context of the natural area, according to Cathy Shaluk, Regional Education and Outreach Coordinator. In addition to a classroom and meeting space, a reading room, observation deck on the second floor and later this year, a laboratory facility.
Currently through NCC’s Prairie Studies outreach Programming, staff visit schools and other community facilities to tell the tall grass prairie story and other important conservation matters. Now groups and individuals can visit the Centre, which will be open to the public during the summer, and for schools and other group tour programs throughout the year.
“We wanted a focal point for the delivery of conservation education programming,” Shaluk noted, “but we also wanted a central location for the community to come and see the stewardship work that is occurring within the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.”
The Interpretive Centre welcomes visitors. If they stop by, they can come inside and talk to the interpretive staff to learn about the Preserve, local flora and fauna and the entire region, especially the orchids.
Outdoors the centre features a butterfly garden, a picnic shelter and a nature trail. The Prairie Orchid Trail is a one-kilometre interpretive trail that provides an exciting nature experience.
Eventually this new trail will connect to other existing Trails in the region. As well, the Prairie Shore Trail is also located a short distance away. The new Monarch Butterfly Hiking Trail is being developed this summer, to guide visitors south of the Centre to experience the habitat restoration project initiated last year in support of this species at risk.
To reach The Weston Family Tall Grass Prairie Interpretive Centre, go approximately 80 km south of Winnipeg on Highway 59. Turn east on Highway 201 and go 5.5 km and follow the signs on the north side. The Centre is open Wednesday through Sunday, 8:30am to 4:30pm until Sept. 2. After which, the facility is available for booked tours, facility rentals, community events, and school and youth group programming.
If you would like more information, visit the NCC website: www.natureconservancy.ca/mb. or call 1-204-425-8118.